AIDS 2008: Lifting the Travel Ban on HIV-Positive People

Global Voices OlympicsThe XVII International AIDS Conference ended in Mexico City last week, leaving participants with much to focus on until the next conference, which takes place in Vienna in 2010. One of these areas of focus are the travel restrictions imposed on HIV-positive people entering a country for the short or long-term. Conference organizers and many officials at the event condemned these policies as discriminatory and shameful.

SciDev.Net‘s conference blog reports that:

“An issue widely discussed in the AIDS 2008 conference is the fact that several countries deny the entry, stay or residence of HIV-positive people because of their HIV status.

According to the publication Entry denied, published by UNAIDS in partnership with other organisations and distributed at the conference, at least 67 countries are on the list of those that deny the entry to people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Mexico, where AIDS 2008 was held, has no traveling restrictions for people with HIV/AIDS, but 65 or so other nations enforce some degree of restriction on the estimated 33 million people living with HIV globally. Seven nations, according to the European AIDS Treatment Group, impose a complete entry ban on HIV-positive people: Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Countries with such restrictions often argue that it helps protect public health and avoid costs associated with treating HIV-positive people from other nations.

David Cozac, who blogged about the human rights sessions at AIDS 2008, says that experts disagreed with such arguments.

“During a session on travel restrictions for people living with HIV, participants decried the fact that although there is no evidence that travel restrictions have a positive public health impact, 67 countries still have restrictions in place.”

One of the countries with such restrictions is China. Despite hopes that China would lift its HIV-related traveling restrictions before the Olympics, the country has maintained them, even during the games. Under their current regulations, tourists and short-term visitors must declare their HIV status, and those planning to stay long-term must undergo a blood test; if found to be HIV-positive, they are refused entry.

Denise Patterson, blogging from Thailand, comments on China's ban of visitors with AIDS and other health conditions during the Olympics:

” A ban on people with mental illnesses or sexually transmitted diseases? That is very amusing. If the Chinese government believes they can control every aspect of the Olympics, they are sadly mistaken…

… According to 2007 statistics, published by the World Health Organization, the HIV/AIDS rate in China is 2.9% of the population. The ‘ban’ doesn't seem to be working.”

However, China may be responding to the pressure. China Daily reports that Hao Yang, deputy director of the ministry's disease control and prevention bureau, told the publication at AIDS 2008 that the two-decade-old HIV/AIDS travel ban will likely be lifted in 2009.

China may be following America's lead for change. In July U.S. President George W. Bush signed legislation to repeal the statutory ban on entry into the U.S. for HIV-positive tourists, students, and immigrants, taking the first step needed to eliminate the ban. However, for the ban to be completely lifted, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must now remove HIV from a list of diseases that prevent people from entering the U.S. HIV is currently still on the list.

Kevinf, posting on, writes about the positive reaction to this repeal.

“Many AIDS experts and rights activists find the new legislation to be a cause for celebration. Previously, travel restrictions could cause more trouble than they prevented, causing people with HIV to lie about their condition. It was discriminatory and would also lead to many of the infected to lie.”

David Munar posts this video of Rev. Christo Greyling of World Vision International, where he discusses why such travel bans are detrimental and raises questions about the U.S. repeal.

LauraK, blogging for AIDS 2008's youth site, warns that the U.S. repeal is a major step, but not the final one.

“It is now up to the Secretary of Health to change regulations to reflect the new legislation. HIV must be taken off of the list of diseases that mean inadmissibility to the United States, but Congresswoman [Barbara] Lee is confident that this will happen soon.”

She goes on to share how such travel restrictions have impacted those with HIV, as she witnessed at an AIDS 2008 questioning period.

“One man came forward to express the sense of betrayal felt by those forced out by the restrictions, he had personal experience as a US citizen living in Canada with a partner who is HIV-positive. He still loved his country, he told the panel, but he was ashamed and angry with his government for initiating the repressive legislation that forced him to choose between his country and his partner, as well as for taking 20 years to address it.”

Photo of Red Traveling Suitcase by tofutti break on Flickr.


  • Thank you for this, Juhie. I knew that some countries prevented long-term stays for HIV-positive people, but I had no idea that some entirely banned them! That’s just terrible, and I’m glad that the United States is moving in the right direction. Hopefully more countries will do so.

  • When you consider the amounts of people these bans affect, it’s really amazing there isn’t more awareness about it – so discriminatory.

  • this does sound quite promising. I am reminded of a friend who hails from Kenya that was subjected through HIV testing on obtaining her student visa to Australia. Certain countries that are labeled ‘high risk’ seems to be discriminated against more strongly then those that appear to pose less risk toward the host country. Something we should not forget in this move forward to accord PLWHA with the right to live as they desire.

  • Michael

    So then where is the bill to allow people with Chancroid, Gonorrhea, Granuloma Inguinale, Lymphogranuloma Venereum, and Syphilis into the USA? They are currently denied entry also. Is there some reason that people with HIV are more deserving of special treatment than people with these conditions? There couldn’t be some sort of agenda here could there? Where is the outcry that people with Syphilis being denied entry would be ”discriminatory and would also lead to many of the infected to lie.”?

  • It is a good news that People living with HIV/AIDS can now travel and live in the USA. At last the US is not longer among those countries who carry out discrimation against HIV+ pleople.
    I call on the rest of the countries of the world to do same. Some people living with HIV/AIDS have got there relatives living in some of these countries and would like to join them for care. If these TRAVEL BAN are in place, how will the fight against HIV/AIDS be effective?

    Let the rest of the world world together in one direction to defeat the HIV/AIDS

  • If you’re HIV+ like me, visit for a chat.

  • […] communities such as men who have sex with men and sex workers. Another area of focus were the travel restrictions imposed on HIV-positive people. The restrictions were condemned as being discriminatory and […]

  • esfer1

    boima jalllah im sorry but you’re wrong people living with hiv still can not travel or imigrate to US unless they get a waiver wich are very dificult to obtain, the ban is been lifted but is up to hhs deparment to lift the second entry. hopefully soon will be fully lifted

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