Mon, Jul 06, 2009 - Page 7 News List

US ban on visitors testing positive for HIV to be scrapped

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A law that has in effect banned people with HIV from visiting the US for two decades is to be overturned after a Briton with the virus accused the US of hypocrisy and discrimination during a major health conference.

Paul Thorn should have spoken at the Pacific health summit in Seattle last month, but was refused entry to the country after admitting his HIV status on his visa-waiver application .

He sent a powerful statement to be read out in his place. The message accused the US of having an HIV policy rooted in fear and said it had no right to call itself a world leader in the fight against the disease.

CONGRESSMAN

In the days after the conference Thorn’s case was taken up by politicians including US Representative Jim McDermott. He wrote a letter to US President Barack Obama’s administration citing what had happened to Thorn and another case where people were turned back at the Canadian border.

“Now is the time to repair our nation’s standing as the leader in the treatment of the AIDS epidemic,” McDermott wrote.

Last week — less than two weeks later — the US government decided to bring the ban to an end. Its proposal “to remove HIV as a ‘communicable disease of public health significance’” is likely to be in place by the end of the year.

LAST STRAW

“A lot of people have worked on this but it seems this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Thorn, 38, a writer and adviser on TB and HIV issues from Brighton, who described the policy as grotesque. “I have lied in the past on the visa-waiver form, but this time I wanted to make a stand.”

His statement read: “The US government give people who have HIV one of two choices. The first is to actually be dishonest on the visa application or visa-waiver form, commit a felony by lying to US immigration, and become a criminal. The second choice is to be honest, and have a visa rejected because you are considered an undesirable person, and unfit to enter the US. To my mind either being a criminal or an undesirable isn’t much of a choice. I don’t want to be either.”

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