JULY 31, 2008
In signing the $48 billion measure to combat AIDS in Africa and other poor nations this week, President George W. Bush also lifted a longtime congressional ban on immigration and travel to the U.S. by people with the deadly disease.
The celebrated, bipartisan-supported bill creates a program to treat and prevent AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in more than a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The money will support lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for nearly 2 million people infected with AIDS in those countries.
But buried in the popular President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is an alarming provision that ends a ban, imposed by Congress in 1993, on immigration and travel to the U.S. by people with AIDS. The absurd provision allows the Department of Health and Human Services to decide whether to take AIDS off its list of communicable diseases, which is equally deranged since there is no disputing that it is in fact a communicable disease.
That is precisely why AIDS as well as HIV have been on the department’s list since 1987. To create legislation that would somehow allow the government agency in charge of protecting Americans’ health to make an exception for this particular communicable disease is outrageous and downright dangerous.
It was bad enough that the U.S. Senate approved the measure with the travel ban lift attached to it few weeks ago. The president’s signature means that federal health officials are no longer bound by law to keep AIDS on its list of diseases barring entry into the U.S. Eleven countries still ban the travel of AIDS-infected people and the U.S. still bans those infected with leprosy, gonorrhea and tuberculosis from entering the country.
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