In UN-backed call, business leaders seek end to HIV travel restrictions

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

28 November 2012 – In a move jointly sponsored by the United Nations agency dealing with the global HIV/AIDS response, more than 40 top business leaders today called for the repeal of laws and policies restricting freedom of movement of people living with HIV.

“Every individual should have equal access to freedom of movement,” said the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé.

“Restrictions on entry, stay and residence for people living with HIV are discriminatory and a violation of human rights,” he added.

The Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are speaking out ahead of World AIDS Day, which is observed globally on 1 December. They represent nearly two million employees in industries from banking to mining, travel to technology, according to a news release issued by UNAIDS and GBCHealth, which comprises companies addressing global health challenges.

Travel and other restrictions remain in 45 countries, and threaten people with HIV with such penalties as deportation, detention or denial of entry into the country in question.

Calling HIV restrictions “bad for business,” Chip Bergh, President and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., said, “Global business leaders are coming together to make sure we end these unreasonable restrictions.”

Most restrictions were imposed by governments in the 1980s, when less was known about HIV transmission, and treatment did not exist. Since then, much has been learned about how to effectively prevent, manage and treat HIV, the news release noted.

“It’s time to send HIV travel restrictions packing,” said Kenneth Cole, CEO of Kenneth Cole Productions. “Using our collective might, I believe we can use our influence to eliminate these discriminatory practices.”

Mark Bertolini, Chairman, CEO and President of Aetna, reflected that sentiment by adding: “Travel restrictions on individuals with HIV are unnecessary and hinder the ability for individuals and companies to operate in a truly global workforce.”

Other major companies whose CEOs have joined the appeal include Johnson & Johnson, The Coca-Cola Company, Pfizer, Heineken, Merck, the National Basketball Association, Kenya Airways and Thomson Reuters.

While restrictions affecting HIV carriers vary from country to country, they can also include denial of work visas, disallowing short-term stays for business trips or conferences, and blocking longer-term stays, such as residence-for-work relocations and study-abroad programmes, according to UNAIDS.

The United States lifted its 22-year HIV travel ban in 2010, while other countries that have removed restrictions include Armenia, China, Fiji, Moldova, Namibia and Ukraine. “These countries include major hubs for international business,” noted the agency.

Ending discrimination against HIV carriers is part of the “Getting to Zero” theme for World AIDS Days from 2011 to 2015. The day was launched in 1988, and was the first ever global health day.


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