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UN programme to work toward elimination of HIV travel restrictions

UN programme to work toward elimination of HIV travel restrictions

Meeting of the International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions in Geneva
Calling travel restrictions on HIV positive people, in place in 104 countries, discriminatory and unnecessary, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has set up an international task force to work toward their elimination.

“Travel restrictions based on HIV status again highlight the exceptionality of AIDS, especially short-term restrictions," Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said in a news release published on its website yesterday.

"No other condition prevents people from entering countries for business, tourism, or to attend meetings. No other condition has people afraid of having their baggage searched for medication at the border, with the result that they are denied entry or worse, detained and then deported back to their country,” he added.

According to data collected by the European AIDS Treatment Group, a total of 104 countries have some form of HIV-specific travel restrictions, 12 of which ban HIV-positive people from entering for any reason or length of time.

Most of the restrictions require people to indicate their HIV status before entering or remaining in a country, with some countries having them undergo mandatory HIV testing, without safeguards, to which UNAIDS objects particularly strongly.

The most common arguments give for the restrictions involve the protection of public health and the high possible costs associated with care, support and treatment of people living with HIV.

Whatever the reason, UNAIDS said, HIV-related travel restrictions raise fundamental human rights issues involving non-discrimination and freedom of movement in a mobile world in which the World Tourist Organization (WTO), in 2000, estimated that there were 698 million international arrivals worldwide, most as part of short trips.

The International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions convened for the first time in Geneva on 25-26 February, in a meeting, co-chaired by UNAIDS and the Norwegian Government.

In that meeting, it brought together representatives of governments, inter-governmental organizations, civil society groups, the private sector and networks of people living with HIV, UNAIDS said.

The next regular meeting of the task team is scheduled to take place from 31 March to 2 April in Geneva.