Feature story

Third meeting of the International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions

18 July 2008

The International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions concluded its third meeting with draft recommendations towards the elimination of HIV-specific restrictions on entry, stay and residence. In the coming months, these will be finalized and presented to the boards of the Global Fund and UNAIDS this November and December.

Restricting entry, stay or residence in a country due to HIV positive status alone is discriminatory, and in today’s highly mobile world, such restrictions have even greater impact on people living with HIV. In 2008, some 67 countries continue to have such restrictions.

In early 2008, UNAIDS set up an international task team of governments, civil society groups and international organizations to bring the issue of HIV-related travel restrictions back onto the agenda and promote action towards their elimination. Co-chaired by UNAIDS and the Government of Norway, the Task Team met for the first time in Geneva in February 2008, followed by a second meeting at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in April, and the third and final meeting in Madrid at the headquarters of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

At the third meeting, the Task Team took
stock of all the advocacy and activities
conducted by Task Team members against
travel restrictions and noted that there
indeed is much greater momentum toward
their elimination. Credit: UNAIDS

The third meeting, which took place from 24-26 June, was opened by Francisco Elías de Tejada Lozano, former Spanish Ambassador to the Global Fund, Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Francesco Frangialli, Secretary-General of UNWTO. Frangialli underlined that travel restrictions based on HIV status are discriminatory, and are a major concern to the entire tourism sector.

“HIV is not something that transmits through the air. If there are going to be restrictions, they have to be rational and reflect legitimate public health concerns. For HIV, what’s needed is prevention information and dialogue,” said Frangialli.

At the third meeting, the Task Team took stock of all the advocacy and activities conducted by Task Team members against travel restrictions and noted that there indeed is much greater momentum toward their elimination.

For example, civil society groups conducted significant advocacy leading up to the High-Level Meeting on AIDS at the UN General Assembly in June. At that meeting, both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot called for the end of HIV-related travel restrictions in their speeches at the opening session of the General Assembly. “Stigma and discrimination around AIDS remain as strong as ever: and in this context I join my voice with the Secretary General and I call on all countries to drop restrictions on entry to people simply because they are living with HIV,” said Dr Piot.

Task Team members also underlined during the third meeting that ongoing awareness-raising is needed, and that the Task Team’s work has to be followed by intense country-level action that leads to the elimination of travel restrictions.

“At this point in the epidemic, with over 25 years of experience, it’s hypocrisy if there’s no change and governments say that they’re committed to ending stigma and discrimination,” said Craig McClure, Executive Director of the International AIDS Society.

Susan Timberlake, Task Team Co-chair and Senior Human Rights and Law Adviser at UNAIDS, stated that more effort is needed to ensure that tourists, migrants and other mobile populations are addressed in national AIDS responses.

“Countries need to understand that any HIV vulnerability related to mobility is not just about tourists and migrants, it is also about nationals, entering, departing and re-entering. If governments really want to reduce HIV vulnerability related to mobility they should ensure that all mobile people benefit from appropriate HIV programmes and services. In the era of Universal Access and increasing globalization, no comprehensive AIDS response should leave out people on the move,” she said.

Restrictions on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV will be highlighted during a Special Session at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico this August, as well as the Global Forum on Migration and Development in the Philippines in October. The final recommendations of the Task Team will be presented in a report at the next meeting of UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board in December 2008 and to the board of the Global Fund of Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in November.