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HIV+? Access Denied

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The World AIDS Day umbrella theme until 2015 is “Getting to Zero – Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths”. UNAIDS has developed 10 strategy goals by 2015 in relation to the Getting to Zero campaign, and these are listed below:

1.Sexual transmission of HIV reduced by half, including among young people, men who have sex with men and transmission in the context of sex work
2.Vertical transmission of HIV eliminated, and AIDS-related maternal mortality reduced by half
3.All new HIV infections prevented among people who use drugs
4.Universal access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV who are eligible for treatment
5.TB deaths among people living with HIV reduced by half
6.People living with HIV and households affected by HIV are addressed in all national social protection strategies and have access to essential care and support
7.Countries with punitive laws and practices around HIV transmission, sex work, drug use or homosexuality that block effective responses reduced by half
8.HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence eliminated in half of the countries that have such restrictions
9.HIV-specific needs of women and girls are addressed in at least half of all national HIV responses
10.Zero tolerance for gender-based violence

(http://www.unaids.org/en/aboutunaids/unaidsstrategygoalsby2015/ )

This year’s World AIDS Day was barely over when I read an article about a South African journalist detained in, and deported from Qatar due to his HIV-positive status.

Naturally this news report brought up numerous questions. Even though I knew that some countries have visa restrictions for HIV/AIDS, I did not realise the extent of these restrictions, and the lengths to which and procedures some countries followed in order to enforce these rules.

Including Qatar, 47 countries worldwide have the HIV restrictions mentioned in UNAIDS strategy goals. Restricting the travel of people who are HIV positive is a measure these countries have taken to curb the spread of AIDS. Up until recently, the USA and China were among the countries that listed having HIV as a medical basis for inadmissibility and denial of visas.

I have tried to think of the reasons behind these prohibitions. It seems a logical move, I guess. Almost like the reverse of quarantine. The separation of infected people as an emergency response to prevent the spread of disease (especially those about which little is known) has been practiced throughout history, the world over, and in theory, should be quite effective in preventing the spread of HIV. But … I don’t think so!

We now know a whole lot more than we did in the 80s and 90s about the nature of HIV/AIDS and there is therefore no need for such draconian restrictions, which I feel do little more than fuel the fires of stigma and further marginalize people living with HIV in an age when openness about the disease is being encouraged and treatment is mostly readily available.

The world has become a global village and it is now not unheard of that nationals from one side of the globe, travel and even work on the other side of it. What has happened to this South African journalist is a harsh reminder of how bad the situation currently is and how much work still needs to be done on the issue. As UNAIDS continues in its call for the “global freedom of movement for people living with HIV”, I’m wondering how they might help this victim of discrimination and ill treatment due to HIV-positive status, and maybe use this issue as a platform to effect change and shed light on HIV discrimination and stigma?

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