Friday, May 7, 2010

China Lifts Travel Ban on HIV Positive Visitors

The New York Times is reporting that China has lifted a two-decade ban on travel to the country by people who carry the virus that causes AIDS or who have other sexually transmitted diseases.

The government approved amendments to a 1986 law governing quarantines and a 1989 law regulating entry by foreigners, removing prohibitions related to people with H.I.V., which causes AIDS, China’s State Council, a body roughly equivalent to the White House cabinet, reported on its Web site late Tuesday.

The council’s standing committee approved the changes on April 19 and Premier Wen Jiabao signed decrees putting them into effect on April 24, the council said.

With the changes, the ban on travel is officially limited only to people with infectious tuberculosis, serious mental disorders and “infectious diseases which could possibly greatly harm the public health.”

China has temporarily lifted the ban on H.I.V.-positive travelers for major events in the past, but the revision of longstanding laws indicates that the latest change will be permanent. The state-run newspaper China Daily quoted a spokesman for the health ministry, Mao Qun’an, as saying that the ministry had been working to permanently remove the prohibition since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Between 450,000 and one million Chinese are infected with H.I.V. virus, according to Unicef, the United Nations health organization. Roughly 75,000 of those have developed AIDS.

The proportion of H.I.V.-infected people in China is far below that of neighboring nations — Vietnam, for example, records about 20,000 AIDS deaths a year — but health experts have worried that China’s H.I.V. population may be poised to expand.

The infection is most common among sex workers, migrant workers and residents of some border areas, like the Yunnan province in southwest China, where drugs are smuggled into the country.

In January, the United States dropped its own ban on visitors who are H.I.V. positive. The ban had been in effect for 22 years.

President Obama said he was fulfilling a promise he had made to gay advocates and acting to eliminate a restriction he said was “rooted in fear rather than fact.”

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