CEOs Get Socially Responsible on Travel Restrictions for People Living with HIV

People living with HIV are met with prejudice when they travel as 46 countries still impose travel restrictions on them. In order to put an end to this unfair situation, CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies have come together in a socially responsible initiative to ask those countries to lift such outdated and unfair restrictions.

The CEOs have signed a pledge to opposed HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence, saying that besides being discriminatory, such laws and policies are bad for business. The pledge was launched on the opening day of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, where 30,000 people from 200 countries gathered July 22-27. It is the world’s largest AIDS conference.

Amongst the companies involved are Kenneth Cole Productions, Access Bank Plc, Aetna, Anglo American plc, BD, BET Networks, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Gap Inc., Getty Images, Gilead Sciences, Inc., H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, HEINEKEN NV, Hub One International Company Ltd., Johnson & Johnson, , Levi Strauss & Co., Merck & Co., Mylan, National Basketball Association (NBA), Nordstrom, Inc, OraSure Technologies, Inc., Vestergaard Frandsen, Virgin Unite, and the former Chairman of MTVN International.

The pledge is an initiative of UNAIDS in partnership with GBCHealth, which is mobilizing the corporate signatures. Formerly called the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, GBCHealth is a coalition of companies that address global health challenges.

Most HIV-related travel restrictions were imposed by governments in the early days of the epidemic when ignorance and fear surrounded the transmission of HIV and treatment did not exist. But things have changed dramaticaly since then and these days people living with HIV lead normal, productive lives with the help of antiretroviral therapy.

“There is no evidence that these restrictions protect public health,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “They are discriminatory and violate international human rights standards. People living with HIV should have equal access to opportunity and freedom of movement in today’s globalized world.”

UNAIDS counts 46 countries, territories and areas that have some form of restriction on entry, stay or residence based on the HIV-status of those seeking to enter or remain. Some countries deny travel for short-term stays, such as business trips or conferences; and some deny longer- term stays or residence, such as work-related moves, migration, study abroad programs and diplomatic and consular postings.

Five countries have a complete bar on the entry and stay of people with HIV for any reason or any length of time. An additional five countries require that a person show that he/she is HIV- negative even for short stays. Twenty countries deport individuals once their HIV infection is discovered. Varying forms of restrictions exist in other countries.

“These outdated laws and policies make no sense in today’s globalized world, where work- related travel is routine for corporations,” said Michael Schreiber, Managing Director of GBCHealth. “Companies need to send their employees overseas, regardless of their HIV status.”

Many countries have lifted their travel restrictions, including most recently, Namibia, Ukraine, Armenia, Fiji and the Republic of Moldova.

Image credit: Kenneth Cole's Facebook page