A Dutch man was the first person to take advantage of a change in U.S. policy removing travel restrictions for individuals with HIV/AIDS, after the ban was lifted Monday. Rights advocates and the United Nations applauded the move, as well as a similar one by South Korea, while calling for 57 other countries with various restrictions in place to follow suit.
“We’re very excited to finally see the end of this discriminatory and harmful policy. Getting rid of the HIV ban has been a part of our core mission since we were founded in 1994,” Victoria Neilson, legal director at Immigration Equality, told Agence France-Presse.
“Today, a sad chapter in our nation’s response to people with HIV and AIDS has finally come to a close and we are a better nation for it. This policy, in place for more than two decades, was unnecessary, ineffective and lacked any public health justification,” Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign — an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — said in a press release.
The 22-year-old ban on HIV-positive foreigners from entering the U.S. was put in place in the early fear-filled days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when the Department of Health and Human Services characterized HIV as a communicable disease. Some HIV-positive individuals were able to get temporary entrance visas for 30-day stays, but studying or working in the U.S. was out of the question.
Medical professionals and rights advocates had been challenging the policy since its inception. Several previous efforts had been made by politicians to remove the ban.
China, Egypt, Israel, New Zealand, Poland and Russia are among the other countries that still maintain some form of restrictions on HIV-positive travelers.
In a press release, UNAIDS Director Michel Sidibe commended the moves by the U.S. and South Korea as “a victory for human rights on two sides of the globe,” and called for “global freedom of movement for people living with HIV in 2010.”