Diamond: Repeal bad ban

During his campaign, President Obama promised to overcome the ideological and fear-based policies of the “President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” (PEPFAR), including the “HIV Travel Ban,” which restricts entry of people living with HIV for even short-term stays. The PEPFAR reauthorization, which extends to 2013, repealed this ban, taking it off activists’ agendas.

But HIV remains on HHS’s list of communicable diseases, and thus remains a factor in the decisions of immigration officials. As HHS Secretary-designate Kathleen Sebelius begins her Senate confirmation hearings, she must move quickly on her own confirmation to lift these restrictions.

The United States is one of 14 countries with such a policy, and the other countries in our company have a record of human rights abuse: Brunei, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Tunisia, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Over 200 health groups oppose the HIV travel ban. “It is far past time for the U.S. to join the community of nations whose HIV entry policies are rooted in sound public health practices, rather than discrimination and ignorance,” said Pat Daoust, MSN, RN, and director of Physicians for Human Rights. The UNAIDS Task Team on HIV-Related Travel Restrictions has found that this policy is increasing the stigma that prevents people from utilizing services and encourages the dangerous misconception that HIV risk only exists abroad.

President Reagan enacted this policy in the context of ignorance about the spread of HIV/AIDS and its relation to homosexuality and Africa, as well as out of outright homophobia, xenophobia and racism, though he justified it as protection from contagion. Despite his campaign promises, President Clinton was unable to pass the repeal through Congress.

There is no legitimate scientific, political or economic argument for the ban. Once it is fully repealed, the quota of immigrants and refugees accepted will still be predetermined by executive order. Other wealthy countries that have repealed such a ban have not experienced a flood of HIV-infected foreigners, but instead only a slight increase in HIV-positive immigrants, most of whom are relatives of citizens. Furthermore, the small percentage of health benefits to the HIV-positive is predicted to increase spending by less than $500,000 and will be taken into account through sponsor’s affidavit and public charge assessment requirements that are built into immigration law.

So what is propelling this policy through administration after administration? For the answer one can look to the movie “Outbreak.” I will admit that I first watched this movie to see McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy wearing an ’80s leather coat, black curly locks and an earring.

But the story of a military and government willing to blow up a town to prevent the spread of contagious disease and preserve a bioweapon is eerily close to home. In this movie, officials are willing to act without information, creating a fear-based policy. This “for the greater good” argument, used by a military general played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, was commonly seen in press releases from the last administration. Examples include “national security” threats being used to justify the war in Iraq, wiretapping, detention and torture.

Public health is geared towards protecting a population, while medicine is more individual. But it is hard to find a public health official who agrees with any of these policies, which have no scientific or rational basis.

The Obama administration has much legislation to revise and during this term, health disparities will grow, AIDS will spread, the global disease burden will affect trade and travel, biosecurity will take a prominent place on the international stage and the world will continue to be influenced by hysteria and fear. But human rights must come before irrational, fear-justified policies, and this mental change can start with the full repeal of the “HIV-travel ban.”

Samantha Diamond is a junior in Morse College.


  • Roflcopter

    You're trying to have your cake and eat it too. Either HIV is a public health issue or else it is not a public health issue.

    If it is, it should be monitored and controlled by the government. If it is not, then we should stop hearing people carping on old campus about how many Americans die from it each year.

    HIV is transmittable. People who immigrate with HIV have most likely engaged in risky behavior that got them the disease in the first place. It's perfectly reasonable to assume they're going to continue spreading it in the US too.

  • Antrop

    The policy is a discriminatory throwback to a time when we were largely ignorant about the disease and lived in fear of those who were infected and living with HIV. It is, at its core, a prejudicial policy that has prevented our country from hosting international HIV/AIDS conferences and it has put us far behind other civilized nations, who long ago took their own bans off the books.

  • a82p

    No one is saying HIV is not a public health issue. It clearly is. However, banning entry to foreigners with HIV is counterproductive. Of course, your instinct tells you, "keep them out of my country." Unfortunately, there is no way that border control can keep every HIV positive individual out of the country (are you going to give a rapid test to every foreigner coming in?). Once they are in the country, this policy incentivizes foreigners not to get tested which is a great public health threat. Furthermore, statistics show that most HIV positive foreigners in the US actually acquired the virus while they were in the US, not to mention the gross human rights abuse aspect of such a ban. I believe this is an important public health issue that should be decided by experts, not by laymen with a propensity to follow their instincts without the scientific knowledge.

    One other thing-- It is a bit of a stretch to compare the human rights abuse by South Korea with those by U.A.E. and other nations. South Korea has a working democracy, and the Supreme Court recently granted an injunctive relief to a HIV positive foreigner who was under a deportation proceeding.