Monday, November 2, 2009

At last!

Friday was a huge huge day for people with HIV, those who love them, and those who love justice. For 22 years (22 years!) the US government has prohibited people with HIV from receiving a visa to the US except under limited and burdensome bureaucratic circumstances. Friday was the signpost that it is no longer a question of if the outdated provision would be lifted, but when, that is days not years away. From the White House web site: "Since 1987, HIV-positive travelers and immigrants have been banned from entering or traveling through the United States without a special waiver. In July 2008, Congress removed all legislative barriers to repealing the ban and paved the way for HHS to repeal the ban. A final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, November 2nd and will take effect in early January 2010. That means that people who have HIV and are not U.S. citizens will be able to enter the U.S. starting in January next year. This is a major step in ending the stigma associated with HIV." This policy was put into place when HIV was barely understood, when there was so much fear of how HIV was transmitted, when we thought the threat came from "those people," from outside our borders, not from (primarily) our own behaviors and circumstances. Due to work by a lot of HIV advocacy organizations, in July 2008, the international HIV assistance (PEPFAR) bill took out the language that made HIV as a defacto prohibition to a visa, but it was still on the list of public health conditions that barred a person from a US visa. As a family affected by this unjust and outdated policy, I can tell you that while waiting, every day I would search the news and the Federal Register to see if it was the day that this policy would be lifted. I even added a special search alert to my email so that I would get an email if there was any news on this. And others waited much longer than this, and with heartbreaking results, for this policy to be changed. It is 2009, and when 2010 comes, people with HIV, including children being adopted, but not only children, will be acknowledged as people and not as vectors of infection who need to be barred from our shores. There is still so much to do to decrease stigma and discriminatory practices, but this is HUGE!

For the record:

HIV can NOT be spread through casual/household contact. HIV is not spread through hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing toys, sneezing, coughing, sharing food, sharing drinks, bathing, swimming or any other casual way. HIV and AIDS can only be spread through sexual contact, birth, breastfeeding and blood to blood contact (such as sharing needles).
HIV is now considered a chronic but manageable disease. With treatment, people who are HIV+ can live indefinitely without developing AIDS and can live long and full lives.
People who are HIV+ deserve to be treated with love, respect, support and acceptance as all people do.

Additional information on HIV can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website.

I couldn't agree more with these remarks, made on the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act, which provides medical care and resources for so many people with HIV/AIDS here in the US, and the announcement that the immigration ban is on its way out.

"We often speak about AIDS as if it's going on somewhere else. And for good reason -- this is a virus that has touched lives and decimated communities around the world, particularly in Africa. But often overlooked is the fact that we face a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic of our own -- right here in Washington, D.C., and right here in the United States of America. And today, we are taking two important steps forward in the fight that we face here at home.It has been nearly three decades since this virus first became known. But for years, we refused to recognize it for what it was. It was coined a "gay disease." Those who had it were viewed with suspicion. There was a sense among some that people afflicted by AIDS somehow deserved their fate and that it was acceptable for our nation to look the other way. A number of events and advances over the years have broadened our understanding of this cruel illness. One of them came in 1984, when a 13-year-old boy from central Indiana contracted HIV/AIDS from a transfusion. Doctors assured people that Ryan White posed no risk to his classmates or his community. But ignorance was still widespread. People didn't yet understand or believe that the virus couldn't be spread by casual contact. Parents protested Ryan's attendance in class. Some even pulled their kids out of school. Things got so bad that the White family had to ultimately move to another town.It would have been easy for Ryan and his family to stay quiet and to fight the illness in private. But what Ryan showed was the same courage and strength that so many HIV-positive activists have shown over the years and shown around -- show around the world today. And because he did, we didn't just become more informed about HIV/AIDS, we began to take action to fight it. In 1990, the year Ryan passed away, two great friends and unlikely political allies, Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, came together and introduced the Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act -- the CARE Act -- which was later named after Ryan." "But it will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested; that has stopped people from facing their own illness; and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long. A couple of years ago Michelle and I were in Africa and we tried to combat the stigma when we were in Kenya by taking a public HIV/AIDS test. And I'm proud to announce today we're about to take another step towards ending that stigma. Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It's a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives. We are continuing the work of crafting a coordinated, measurable national HIV/AIDS strategy to stem and suppress this epidemic. I'm pleased to report that the Office of National AIDS Policy, led by Jeffrey Crowley, has already held eight in a series of 14 community discussions in cities across the country. They've brought together faith-based organizations and businesses, schools and research institutions, people living with HIV and concerned citizens, gathering ideas on how to target a national response that effectively reduces HIV infections, improves access to treatment, and eliminates health disparities. And we are encouraged by the energy, the enthusiasm, and great ideas that we've collected so far. We can't give Ryan White back to Jeanne, back to his mom. But what we can do -- what the legislation that I'm about to sign has done for nearly 20 years -- is honor the courage that he and his family showed. What we can do is to take more action and educate more people. What we can do is keep fighting each and every day until we eliminate this disease from the face of the Earth."
YAY!!! And here is the official announcement!! Oh Happy Day!!

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