On January 4, the U.S. formally ended its long-standing restrictions on HIV positive people traveling or immigrating to the country. The ban has been in effect since the late 1980s, when Congress declared HIV to be a "communicable disease of public health significance." In 2008, legislation reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) removed the statutory ban and returned authority for determining excludable diseases to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The government issued a proposed policy change in June 2009, and in October, while signing legislation reauthorizing the Ryan White CARE Act, President Barack Obama announced that the ban would be lifted after a 60-day waiting period. Now that the restrictions have been rescinded, the International AIDS Society has announced that it will hold its 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC -- the first in the U.S. since 1990.
South Korea also ended its ban on HIV positive visitors effective January 1, as did China in April; more than 50 countries, however, still have some sort of entry or residence restrictions based on HIV status. The policy changes are "a victory for human rights on two sides of the globe," said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. "Let no country obstruct someone because of their HIV status," he added. "Such discrimination has no place in today's highly mobile world."
Liz Highleyman (email@example.com) is a freelance medical writer based in San Francisco.