HIV travel ban officially lifted

The ban that prevented HIV-positive travelers from entering the United States for more than two decades came to an end this week.

A regulation proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services last summer to reverse its longstanding prohibition went into effect Monday.

“The United States has moved one step closer to helping combat the stigma and ignorance that still too often guides public-policy debates around HIV/AIDS,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement Monday. “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.”

Solmonese added the ban was “unnecessary, ineffective and lacked any public-health justification.”

HHS initially included HIV on its list of communicable diseases that would prevent entry to the United States, alongside leprosy and active tuberculosis, in 1987. In 1993, Congress followed suit and incorporated the HIV travel ban into the Immigration and Nationality Act, making it the law’s only disease to bar visitors from coming into the country.

Congress struck the travel ban from the law in 2008, but it could not be completely repealed until HHS modified its travel regulations.

The department issued the new regulation to reverse its ban in the Federal Register in July, and it was opened for a public-comment period in the fall.

President Obama announced the adoption of the regulation in October, stating the original restrictions were “rooted in fear rather than fact.”

South Korea ended its own HIV travel ban on Jan. 1, and Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general for the United Nations, congratulated both countries for their actions and called on the more-than 50 nations with similar bans, which he termed “discriminatory,” to take steps to reverse them.

UNAIDS executive director Michael Sidlibé echoed Ki-moon’s sentiments.

“I call for global freedom of movement for people living with HIV in 2010, the year when countries have committed to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support,” Sidlibé said. “Let no country obstruct someone because of their HIV status. Such discrimination has no place in today’s highly mobile world.”

After Obama announced the new regulation would go into effect after the new year, the International AIDS Society declared in November that it would hold its 2012 conference in Washington, D.C., an event that has not taken place in the United States since 1990. The 1992 conference was scheduled for Boston but was moved to Amsterdam because of the travel restrictions.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].