The Senate re-authorization of the president's admirable and successful initiative to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has now included the removal of the Jesse Helms ban on travel into the US of any HIV-positive foreigners. It's up to Nancy Pelosi whether to insist in retaining this in the final bill. Here's hoping she does. This is not a trivial matter.
It's been extremely frustrating to see such progress in fighting both HIV and the stigma attached to the disease, while the US retains its anachronistic and stigmatizing ban on anyone with HIV coming into the country. HIV is not smallpox or the bubonic plague. Even China has now rescinded its ban because of international embarrassment around the Olympics. The US has effectively had to stop being an international conference destination for HIV and AIDS because of the irrational legislative hangover from the 1980s. Many Republicans support lifting the ban - Richard Lugar and Gordon Smith are the most prominent in the Senate. Like many people living with HIV, I'm immensely grateful that they see through the panic to the rational contours of a humane and sensible policy.
No major Western country has such a ban. No other illness is treated legislatively this way by the US in immigration and travel. The US, despite America's pioneering work in developing treatments and unequaled generosity in helping Africa, now keeps company only with the following countries in this respect: Armenia, Brunei, Iraq, Qatar, South Korea, Libya, Moldova, Oman, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Is American really as hostile to people with HIV as Saudi Arabia? A critical factor in treating HIV and AIDS is reducing the stigma of the disease. How can the US do what it's doing and remain a beacon for that stigma in the world community? It's long past time that this formal government discrimination against people with HIV be brought to an end.