CEOs Unite to Urge Countries To Lift Travel Restrictions for HIV People

More than 40 CEOs have signed an unprecedented pledge urging the repeal of laws and policies in 45 countries that still restrict entry, and in some cases, call for the deportation of people living with HIV. The CEOs represent nearly two million employees in industries from a range of industries, including banking and technology. The CEO pledge is an initiative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Levi Strauss & Co. and GBCHealth, a coalition of companies that address global health challenges.

The pledge was launched to coincide with World AIDS Day that takes place annually on December 1st. It was also timed with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s release of a blueprint that outlines the goals and objectives for the next phase of the United States’ effort to achieve an AIDS-Free Generation.

“Restrictions on entry, stay and residence for people living with HIV are discriminatory and a violation of human rights,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. “Every individual should have equal access to freedom of movement. I urge all countries to remove all such restrictions based on HIV status.”
Despite the strong ethical focus, the campaign is also grounded in business motivations since companies must be able to send their employees on overseas business missions and their HIV status should not be an impediment.

“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."

The U.S. lifted its 22-year HIV travel ban in 2010 and was followed by Armenia, China, Fiji, Moldova, Namibia and Ukraine, who also lifted bans in recent times. However, 45 countries still deny entry, stay, residence or work visas for people living with HIV. These countries include major hubs for international business.

Most HIV travel restrictions were imposed by governments in the 1980s when less was known about the transmission of HIV, and treatment didn’t exist. HIV treatment has come a long way since then and although no cure has yet been found, most HIV positive people can live perfectly functional lives.

In those countries that have failed to move with the times, restrictions vary and can include preventing people living with HIV from entering altogether or deporting foreigners once their HIV status is discovered. They also include denying work visas, prohibiting short-terms stays for business trips or conferences and blocking longer-term stays or residence for work relocations and study abroad programs.

Image credit: GBCHealth