US HIV travel ban lifted as Bush signs new AIDS bill

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US President Bush has signed a new law lifting a ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States and signed new legislation to fight AIDS in the developing world.

There will be a rise in the budget to fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis of $15bn (£7.5bn) to $48bn (£24bn).

The law also removes a requirement for a third of the AIDS fight to be targeted at abstaining from sex rather than through medical research or distribution.

As he signed the bill, Mr Bush said:

“It’s going to save millions of people. This bill embodies the extraordinary compassion of the American people. We are a compassionate nation. And that’s what this bill says loud and clear.

“I want to thank everybody who’s helped make this bill possible.”

Earlier this month the United States Senate approved the bill and includes clauses that will end the ban. However, the ban will not automatically be lifted, and it is unclear exactly when procedures will be changed to comply with the new law.

At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is “inadmissible,” meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

There are waivers available, but obtaining them has always been difficult.

The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa.

At present the law requires the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include infection with HIV (the only disease or condition specified in the statute) on the list of diseases that serve as a basis for inadmissibility.

The new law has been welcomed by both AIDS charities and gay campaigners.

“We appreciate the President signing the repeal of this unjust and sweeping policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United States,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“The HIV travel and immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and ineffective. We thank our allies on the Hill who fought to end this injustice and now call on Secretary of Health and Human Services Leavitt to remove the remaining regulatory barriers to HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.”