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British Ministers Abandon Plans to Require HIV Testing as Part of Visa Application Process

July 27, 2004

Ministers in Great Britain have abandoned plans to make HIV testing mandatory for immigrants applying for visas to the region, London's Observer reports (Revill, Observer, 7/25). The government had considered implementing compulsory HIV screening for individuals entering England from countries with high HIV prevalence amid concerns that treating such people was taxing the country's National Health System (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/17/03). MigrationWatch UK has said that the cost of treating HIV-positive immigrants from Africa has exceeded $1.8 billion (Walker, Daily Express, 7/26). However, some ministers said that requiring HIV tests would be racist because it would target primarily Africans from countries with higher HIV prevalence rates. Great Britain's Home Office said it could lead to an increase in illegal immigration. In addition, immigration experts said the plan could lead to a demand for falsified health certificates from certain countries. Health experts said that the plan could force the disease underground because immigrants and individuals seeking asylum might fear detainment or arrest for seeking HIV testing or treatment at NHS clinics (Observer, 7/25). According to the Express, it is estimated that there are approximately 17,000 HIV-positive people in the country who have not yet been diagnosed (Daily Express, 7/26).

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Sir Andrew Green, director of MigrationWatch UK, said that the government should "explain why 46 other countries including Australia, Canada and the U.S. require HIV testing before immigration, but ministers have now decided, apparently in secret, to do nothing." However, Neil Gerrard, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS, said that there have been recommendations from several groups, including the World Health Organization, that the mandatory testing approach would not be effective. In addition, the "evidence that there are lots of people coming into Britain in order to access treatment ... is actually quite sketchy," Gerrard said, adding, "What we do know is that a lot of people who do come in with HIV have been living here for some time, and are being diagnosed at quite a late stage. What we need is to be persuading them to come for tests at an earlier stage" (Observer, 7/25).

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