UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations praised the United States and South Korea on Monday for lifting travel bans on people with HIV and urged 57 other countries with travel restrictions to end them quickly.
President Barack Obama announced in October that the U.S. would overturn a 22-year-old travel ban against people with HIV, and the new rule eliminating the ban came into force on Monday. South Korea eliminated travel restrictions for people with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, on Jan. 1.
Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, which coordinates the U.N.’s AIDS response, called the policy changes “a victory for human rights on two sides of the globe.”
Ending the restrictions means travelers who are HIV positive can now enter both countries.
In the United States, the ban has kept out thousands of students, tourists and refugees and has complicated the adoption of children with HIV. No major international AIDS conference has been held in the U.S. since 1993, because HIV-positive activists and researchers could not enter the country.
In 1987, at a time of widespread fear and ignorance about HIV, the Department of Health and Human Services added HIV to the list of communicable diseases that disqualified a person from entering the U.S. The department tried in 1991 to reverse its decision but was opposed by Congress, which went the other way two years later and made HIV infection the only medical condition explicitly listed under immigration law as grounds for inadmissibility to the U.S.
When Obama announced in October that the ban would be overturned, he commended Congress and former President George W. Bush for starting the process to eliminate the ban in 2008 and said his administration was “finishing the job.”
“It’s a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it’s a step that will keep families together, and it’s a step that will save lives,” Obama said. “If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Obama in October and applauded South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak on Monday “for his country’s leadership in ending restrictions towards people living with HIV that have no public health benefit.”
“I repeat my call to all other countries with such discriminatory restrictions to take steps to remove them at the earliest,” Ban said in a statement.
Among the countries that still have restrictions on entry, residence and length of stay for HIV sufferers are China, Cuba, Egypt, North Korea, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Iraq and Russia.
Sidibe, the UNAIDS chief, called 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.”
Discrimination against people with HIV “has no place in today’s highly mobile world,” he said in a statement.