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China Lifts Decades-Old HIV/AIDS Travel Ban

Late Tuesday, China’s State Council lifted a decades-old restriction that banned foreigners with HIV/AIDS from entering the country, Reuters reports (Buckley, 4/27). The amended rules, which appear on the government website, also lift a travel ban on foreigners with other sexually transmitted diseases and leprosy, and “narrow the travel restriction on people with tuberculosis, to those with an infectious form of the lung disease,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek (Randall, 4/28).

“The government approved amendments to a 1986 law governing quarantines and a 1989 law regulating entry by foreigners, removing prohibitions related to people with H.I.V., which causes AIDS, China’s State Council, a body roughly equivalent to the White House cabinet, reported on its Web site late Tuesday,” the New York Times reports (Wines, 4/28).

“According to a statement released Tuesday by the State Council, after gaining more knowledge about the diseases, the government has realized that such [a] ban has a very limited effect in preventing and controlling diseases in the country, ” Xinhua/ChinaDaily reports (4/28).

CNN: “The revision came days before the opening of the six-month Shanghai World Expo, which organizers expect will draw 70 million people. The government had previously lifted the ban temporarily for other large-scale events, including the 2008 Olympics in Beijing” (4/28).

The decision to amend the law falls on the heels of “similar moves by the United States and South Korea to eliminate travel restrictions for people with [HIV]. Both lifted their bans on visitors with HIV in January,” the Associated Press/MSNBC writes.

“AIDS was the top killer among infectious diseases in China for the first time in 2008, a fact that may reflect improved reporting of HIV/AIDS statistics in recent years,” the news service continues. “Government statistics show that by the end of October 2009, the number of Chinese confirmed to be living with HIV-AIDS was 319,877, up from 264,302 in 2008 and 135,630 in 2005. But Health Minister Chen Zhu has said the actual level of infections is probably near 740,000” (Wong, 4/28).

Agence France-Presse/Vancouver Sun reports on U.N. officials’ response to the news of China’s amended travel ban: “I commend President Hu Jintao for China’s decision to remove travel restrictions based on HIV status,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “Punitive policies and practices only hamper the global AIDS response. I urge all other countries with such restrictions to remove them as a matter of priority and urgency” (4/27).

The BBC reports that WHO Director-General Margaret Chan commended China’s decision to lift the travel ban as “a significant step in the right direction” (4/27).

“This decision should inspire other nations to change laws and policies that continue to discriminate against people living with HIV,” Chan said in the statement released by the WHO. “Many policies that discriminate against people living with HIV were enacted at a time when AIDS was surrounded by widespread fear and hopelessness. With HIV prevention and treatment now saving millions of lives, this is no longer the case. Policies that help curb discrimination can help prevent further transmission,” Chan added, noting more than 40 countries have laws and restrictions in place that restrict people living with HIV/AIDS (4/27).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.