Thursday, November 19, 2009
THE UNITED STATES is a leader in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to assist those living with the disease and to help the uninfected stay that way. But since 1987, there has been a blot on that leadership. While the United States was urging an end to the stigma that keeps people from protecting themselves, getting tested and seeking treatment, it was one of 12 nations perpetuating that stigma by enforcing a ban on entry by people who are HIV-positive. That ended last month when President Obama lifted the prohibition.
This punitive policy took effect when AIDS was little understood. Today we know that HIV is not spread through casual contact and that infection is preventable. The same cannot be said for active tuberculosis, cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, infectious leprosy, diphtheria and other diseases that remain on the travel-ban list.
The process for eliminating the travel ban started under President George W. Bush in July 2008, when he signed legislation that repealed the original statute. The law designated HIV/AIDS as a "communicable disease of public health significance." For those seeking to become residents of the United States, the medical examination required testing for HIV. And applicants who were HIV-positive were denied visas to visit; waivers could be requested but were difficult to get. The prohibition discouraged foreign-born residents from getting tested.
The new regulation ends mandatory testing for immigration and visitation and will officially start on Jan. 4. This allows Mr. Obama to check off a promise made to the gay community. More important, it will be a dignified and humane change to a policy that no longer makes sense. "If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," Mr. Obama said during a ceremony to reauthorize the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act. Mission accomplished.