Restrictions on Travel for HIV positive people (UNAIDs)
An brief overview of day 1 the UNAIDs PCB meeting; Peoples on the Move
Its 9.15 and Mat and I are sitting in an enormous shell like room, with a large circular table in the centre of the room that’s hosts the PCB Chair, representatives of the Member States, and the NGO reps.
Another ring of chairs surrounds this (additional country delegates) and then behind them there are 2 long rows of tables and chairs snaking around the room, each with a organisation or country name (representatives from the co-sponsors) and more chairs for the observers.
Taking our name tags, our headphones and our seats, we were welcomed by the Chair who, after a few words, rather surprised me by saying “And let us just take a minutes silence to remember those who have died of aids during the last year”. We stood, heads bowed and I remembered instantly, as all the hustle and bustle of the preparation for this event drained away, the plane, hotel, rushing to get dressed, collecting paperwork, worrying about reporting it for the INPUD press – was all gone in a flash and in an instant I rememebered why we were here. It was a powerful moment for me and I hope for some of the others in suits, who could sometimes, you cant help but feel, get removed from what’s really happening on the ground.
Stakeholders and experts from all over the world are present today. The first speaker, who introduced the thematic segment for today was speaking about forced displacement, migrant populations and peoples on the move. It was a reoccurring theme throughout the day, and it broke out into 4 sessions covering universal access and how it relates (or rather dosent) to people on the move – covering 4 of the major areas that affect them – migration and travel restrictions; people who travel for labour, forced displacements and economic drivers (of which sex workers came under) – basically all those push and pull factors that make people move.
I spent my time in the session on travel restrictions. It was something I had thought about myself, being HIV positive and Australian. I know that Australia, along with 59 other countries all have some form of HIV specific restriction on a positive persons entry, stay and residence – purely based on their HIV status alone.
One guy told us about the fact that he had not disclosed his status when travelling to the US, and once discovered was
charged with the serious offence of lying on your visa application and was deported. Another man from the Philippines followed his dream to work abroad and went to work in Dubai on a visitors visa. After some time working he applied for a work visa and was told he had to take a medical. Happy to comply (he didn’t know he was HIV pos at the time), he was called back to his work office and told he had to retake the medical as ‘there was something wrong with his blood’. He had, he discovered, HIV, and was detained in isolation for 3 weeks with no help or advice, thinking he was about to die and not knowing what would happen to him. He was deported, the company he worked for refusing to pay him the 2 month salary that he was owed.
He then had to face his family back at home with some harrowing news and the fear he wouldn’t be able to travel abroad for work again. It was in discovering a HIV NGO that helped and supported him through these times and here he was today, telling us his story. It really brought to the fore just how serious these restrictions are for people. It forces you to lie, denying you access to care, treatment and support should you need it, and makes these restrictive countries think HIV is ‘out there’ and not their problem.
Now he landed back in the Philippines, but was very upset that he would no longer be able to travel abroad for work
In 2008, UNAIDS created a task team to build a strategic framework to try and overturn these restrictions. The global fund supported the work and the PCB accepted the recommendations. All the European countries support the findings which are fortunately all in line with European policies, yet globally, discrepancies between the written law of the country and what happens in day to day practice can differ.
The difficulty is of course that although positive migrants don’t actually create a huge public health problem as they are feared too, in order to get countries to admit entry it has to be framed as a public health issue in order to raise awareness about it. Difficult.
It was clear however, these restrictions must go – people can loose everything because of these restrictions and it reminded me a lot about drug users and the criminal records many of us just shouldn’t have – further restricting our travel and movement.
The rest of the day was taken up with related sessions but it was the discussion with a group of NGO delegates that Mat and I were there to really focus on. The paper on HIV Prevention and Injecting Drug Use and its recommendations to (hopefully) be adopted by UNAIDS.
This needs more detailed discussion so I will break now and get back to you with the main focus of our interest here in Geneva.