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President Barack Obama Takes Major Steps for People with HIV and AIDS

(NEW YORK) — Today President Obama took two major steps on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS. First, he signed into law a bill extending the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, reauthorizing for another four years the critical programs that have helped provide care for more than half a million low-income people living with HIV and AIDS. Second, he announced the final regulation reversing our nation’s prohibition on HIV-positive people entering the country for travel or immigration.

“We thank the President for taking these tremendous steps today on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s actions signal both to Americans and to the world that the United States is a nation that will care for those most in need at home and will no longer close the door to HIV-positive people abroad.”

For nearly twenty years, the Ryan White CARE Act has served those most in need, acting as a payer of last resort in the gaps left by Medicaid, Medicare and other public health insurance programs. This legislation has been a tremendous success, with more than half a million people having been served by the CARE Act programs to date.

The ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants was adopted through regulation over twenty years ago. Under that ban, HIV-positive foreign nationals were unable to enter the U.S. unless they obtained a special waiver, which was difficult to obtain and only allowed for short-term travel, and the vast majority were unable to obtain legal permanent residency.

The HIV travel and immigration ban will end following a 60-day waiting period that begins on Monday with the administration’s publication of a new rule that removes HIV from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance for immigrants to the United States. The U.S. will join the vast majority of countries around the world that do not restrict the travel and immigration rights of people living with HIV.

“Today a discriminatory travel and immigration ban has gone the way of the dinosaur and we’re glad it’s finally extinct. It sure took too long to get here. We’ve now removed one more hurdle in our fight against AIDS, and it’s long overdue for people living with HIV who battle against stigma and bigotry day in and day out,” said Senator John Kerry (D-MA).

Kerry, along with Senator Gordon Smith and Congresswoman Barbara Lee has worked tirelessly with gay rights organizations to repeal this ban.

“I believe that ending this policy is long overdue, and will lend greater credibility to U.S. foreign assistance efforts to fight the global HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Lee (D-CA). Particularly, it will aid in combating the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, and further erode discriminatory travel and immigration policies in other countries.”

Lambda Legal, who has provided legal analysis and formal comments on numerous occasions urging the government to end the discriminatory ban, is pleased with the President’s decision to lift the ban, noting that government should never be in the business of discriminating.

“We applaud the Obama Administration for its leadership in ending this kind of government sponsored discrimination against people living with HIV,” said Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director of Lambda Legal. “The 22-year ban was discriminatory, violated basic human rights, and could not be justified on public health grounds.

“U.S. policy will finally reflect the broad consensus among the scientific, medical and public health communities that admission of individuals living with HIV into the U.S. as visitors or immigrants does not present a threat to the public health of this country nor pose any danger to its citizens.”

Last year, Congress repealed the statutory language barring people with HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the proposed rules late this summer and after a period of public comment have approved the new rules that eliminate the ban.