Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Armenia urged to lift travel restrictions on people with HIV in time for the Vienna World AIDS Conference in 2010

Thirty countries deport HIV+ migrant workers, sixty six countries discriminate HIV+ travellers, including 19 in the WHO Europe region [including Armenia].

EU HIV Civil Society Forum, which represents some 40 European NGOs, supported by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA), European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) and German AIDS Federation (DAH), calls for action to remove HIV related travel and residence regulations for people living with HIV in time for the Vienna World Aids Conference in 2010. States should do whatever possible to insure that legal discrimination of people with HIV ceases to exist. People with HIV should have the same rights than others.It is the responsibility of policy makers to build up a society that does not discriminate on the ground of HIV status.

Armenia bars people with HIV or AIDS from visiting or immigrating to the country, although there are no practical mechanisms in place to enforce this. However, as the European AIDS Treatment Group reports, quoting the Armenian Ministry of Health, non-citizens who fall ill in Armenia may be deported. I am not aware of any statistics as to how many non-citizens (if any) have been deported. But this potentially could cause troubles and constitutes a human rights violation.

According to the global survey on HIV related travel restrictions (an initiative of the German AIDS Federation, the European AIDS Treatment Group and the International AIDS Society), “There are no specific entry regulations for people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia. Neither a medical certificate nor an HIV test result is required at the border. However, the current AIDS law allows the deportation of foreigners diagnosed as HIV-positive. Antiretroviral medication can be imported for personal use and for the duration of the planned stay (up to six weeks). A medical certificate including the diagnosis in Russian or Armenian language has to be presented at customs.”

With 19 countries in the WHO Europe region still holding HIV specific restrictions in their legislation and the next World Aids Conference in 2010 to be held in Vienna, Austria, civil Society wants to see these restrictions removed by 2010 and calls for a European response towards the EU institutions to work closely together to demonstrate leadership and to give proof that Europe is a dignified host for the conference.

These countries with restrictions in the European region of the World Health Organisation are Andorra, Armenia, Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Germany (Bavaria, Saxony, Brandenburg), Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

“These restrictions range from the denial of work and residency applications and study permits due to HIV status, (treat of) deportations, mandatory HIV tests for certain groups and populations, like house maids, construction workers, sex workers and people working in the tourism industry, people arriving from endemic regions and returning citizens” , specify David Haerry and Peter Wiessner, both are members of the EATG and are for a long time involved in the fight against these restrictions.

“Exclusionary policies like these are a shame for Europe”, says Karl Lemmen from the German AIDS Federation. “European States and institutions should do everything possible to remove HIV related travel restrictions within its territory to guarantee that human rights prevail and `European values` exist.

The call for a European response to remove HIV related travel restrictions in Europe by 2010 had been adopted by the EU HIV Civil Society Forum, which represents some 40 European NGOs. The policy paper wants to enhance a discussion in Europe to remove restrictions by 2010, when the International AIDS Conference will take place in Vienna. It includes concrete proposals for further actions to the European Commission and intergovernmental bodies like WHO Europe, UNAIDS and IOM.

“HIV related travel restrictions wherever they are not only against public health evidence; they violate as well the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and enhance stigma, discrimination and xenophobia” , say Renato Sabbadini and Gloria Careaga, co-Secretaries generals of ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association, a partner in the project.

Few months ago, prominent HIV/AIDS campaigners and international health advocates of Armenian origin Jirair Ratevosian and Dr. Amy Hagopian called Armenian government to consider the widespread consensus among medical and public health professionals regarding the lack of evidence to support HIV-related travel restrictions and to reverse the policy.

There are signs that the legal regulations on HIV/AIDS in Armenia might be amended in the near future. During World AIDS Day 2008 press conference in Yerevan, Ara Babloyan, a former health minister chairing the Armenian parliament’s standing committee on healthcare, indicated that there will be changes in legal regulations of HIV/AIDS in Armenia, to update them taking into account current realities and human rights issues. He did not specify the exact changes proposed, but he said that they are upcoming. Let’s hope that within the proposed amendmends these discriminatory travel restrictions on HIV-positive people will be overturned, in accordance with the prevailing medical evidence and to comply with human rights of those affected.

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