September 10, 2010
Bahrain is among approximately 31 countries that continue to ban entry by people with HIV and deport expatriates found to be infected with the virus.
The tiny island nation is highly dependent upon its foreign workforce. Half of Bahrain's 1.05 million-strong labor pool is composed of foreign-born persons in jobs ranging from laborers to executives. Indians and Bangladeshis are the largest migrant communities, comprising 300,000 and 90,000 people respectively.
Official data show that in the last 20 years, 325 Bahrainis and around 500 expatriates have been recorded as having HIV/AIDS. The primary mode of transmission is contaminated needles. In expatriates, the disease is usually diagnosed during the medical check-up required for a work permit.
Though the country has had a long-standing campaign aimed at increasing HIV awareness and discouraging stigma, many Bahrainis continue to view HIV/AIDS patients as having participated in "un-Islamic" activities, making a change in the immigration policy unlikely.
Somaiya Al Jowder, head of Bahrain's National STD Program, said, "We are aware of the approach of the World Health Organization of linking HIV with human rights principles to avoid discriminating the rights of carriers of the virus. But we cannot do much as current efforts to change the policy will meet strong rejections from the public."
"Most of Bahrainis infected with the virus are keeping their ailment secret from their children and close relatives to avoid being cast away, so accepting foreigners with the ailment wouldn't happen soon," said Al Jowder.
Bahrain also cannot afford the high costs of treating expatriates with HIV, Al Jowder argued. The state presently provides free treatment for HIV-infected Bahrainis, spending $3,700 per patient per month. No private clinic offers HIV treatment.