Australian Prime Minister Discusses Possibility of Stricter Immigration Rules for HIV-Positive People
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Friday in a radio interview said his "initial reaction is no" to a question of whether HIV-positive people should be permitted to immigrate to the country, although he said he needed "more counsel" on the issue, the AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. He said, "I think we should have the most stringent possible conditions in relation to that nationwide, and I know the health minister is concerned about that and is examining ways of tightening things up" (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/13). He also said, "There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases, but prima facie, no" (Lahey/Nolan, Australian Associated Press, 4/13). According to Howard, Australia currently restricts those with certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, from immigrating. Australia's policy says people ages 15 and older who apply for a permanent visa must receive an HIV test. If applicants are found to be HIV-positive, "immigration authorities are to take into consideration the cost of the condition to Australia's health care and community services if a visa were to be granted," Kyodo News reports (Kyodo News, 4/13). Seventy of the 334 new HIV cases reported in 2006 in the Australian state Victoria were among immigrants who were HIV-positive when they came to Australia, the AP/Post-Intelligencer reports.
Chris Lemoh, an infectious disease specialist, said Howard's remarks are a "hysterical overreaction," adding that it "mixes racism with a phobia about infectious disease." He added, "To not allow people to come on the basis of any health condition is immoral, it's unethical and it's impractical to enforce" (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/13). Ian Rankin, president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, said, "We don't welcome the prime minister's remarks, and we will be seeking to clarify his intent. Banning people with HIV usually leads to perverse outcomes. In other words, it causes people to hide their condition." Rankin added that the U.S. policy to restrict HIV-positive individuals' access to the country has "not served [the U.S.] well," adding, "While it has been the center of scientific excellence for AIDS research, the ban has sidelined its development and prevented it from holding international AIDS conferences" (Kyodo News, 4/13).
A webcast of a Thursday briefing about the "U.S. Policy of Inadmissibility of HIV-Infected Noncitizens" is available online at kaisernetwork.org.