Obama Lifts HIV Travel Ban
By Gary Bell
November 2, 2009
On October 30, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would be doing away with its 20-year-old ban preventing people living with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. The U.S. has been one of about a dozen countries that bar HIV-positive travelers. The change will officially take place starting January 1, 2010, after a 60-day waiting period. The ban was established in 1987 when there was widespread fear and ignorance about HIV. The federal government's tried to eliminate the ban in 1991, but was thwarted by Congress. In 1993, Congress made HIV infection the only medical condition specifically listed as ground for inadmissibility to the U.S.
While many may feel that such a law protected Americans from HIV infection from immigrants and travelers, there has been no evidence that it has done so. In reality, HIV rates continue to soar, especially among the poor and minorities. The law also had other adverse consequences by keeping out hundreds of thousands of tourists, refugees and students.
Another impact of the law was the unforseen obstacle that it created for the international adoption of children with HIV. Moreover, no major international HIV/AIDS conference has been held in the U.S. since 1993, because HIV-positive activists and researchers were not allowed to enter the country.
The elimination of this law is another example of how the Obama Administration may have begun to turn the corner pertaining to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, there is still a long way to go.
Transition to Hope
This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.
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