Photo from www.DoSomething.org
As reported on Monday, renowned Australian author Robert Dessaix was denied a Chinese Visa to enter the country on the alleged grounds that he is HIV-positive…and, consequently, people are pissed.
Not only was the award-winning author’s scheduled participation in the Shanghai International Literary Festival canceled (as were his speaking engagements in both Beijing and Chengdu), but the 65-yeard-old Dessaix reported feeling “humiliated,” “insulted” and “snubbed” by China’s imposed ban against HIV-positive foreigners.
Apparently, his feelings are also shared by China’s citizens, as the recent incident has triggered a call for authorities to lift the two-decade-old HIV ban, which some argue as archaic and discriminatory. Li Dun, a professor at Tsinghua University Center for Study of Contemporary China, tells the China Global Times: “The restriction equals discrimination.”
The ban, which currently states that foreigners visiting China on a short-term basis must declare they are free of HIV and those who want to stay longer must undergo a blood test, was initially imposed in the late 1980’s after China reported its first AIDS case. Back then — a time in which the spread and prevention of HIV/AIDS was largely unknown and widely feared — the instituted ban seemingly made sense. But based on recent international health studies conducted by the World Health Organization, HIV should not be among the communicable diseases that disqualify a person from entering a country (among the diseases listed are active tuberculosis, infectious gonorrhea, syphilis and infectious leprosy).
Li states: “Historically speaking, confining people has proven to be ineffective, if not meaningless, in preventing the spread of this disease.”
In October, the United States lifted its 22-year-old HIV travel ban on the platform that it was taking a step towards ending the stigma against people with HIV/AIDS — a stigma that has stopped people from getting tested and, consequently, helped spread the disease. On January 1st, South Korea quickly followed suit by dropping its travel restrictions against HIV-positive foreigners. Among the countries that still have restrictions on entry, residence and length of stay for HIV sufferers are Cuba, Egypt, North Korea, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, Iraq and Russia.
Despite its restrictions, China granted a waiver during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing that allowed people with HIV/AIDS to enter the country. Following this temporary reprieve, China Daily reported that the Ministry of Health was working with the government to finally lift the HIV ban once and for all. The goal? To have the ban eradicated by the May 1st World Expo in Shanghai. Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jeifu opined to China Daily: “I hope China will remove the ban thoroughly and forever by the time of the Shanghai Expo.”
Well, with less than 2-months to go until the Expo’s début, Dessaix’s recent Visa rejection only underscores that China may have a long way to go before it drops the ban “thoroughly and forever.”
And while special visa waivers may be granted during the Expo to ensure “access for all,” this concept is something people would simply like instituted all year-round.