China ready to lift HIV visitor ban

China ready to lift HIV visitor ban

Beijing: China may lift its controversial ban on HIV-positive foreigners visiting the country to enable more tourists to attend the six-month-long World Expo in Shanghai.

Officials said the ban may be lifted after the State Council, China’s Cabinet, decided on Monday to make changes to laws barring foreign HIV patients from entering the country, state run China Daily reported on Wednesday.

Currently, foreigners suffering from mental disorders or infectious diseases like leprosy and HIV/AIDS are denied entry.

According to current rules, foreigners applying for resident permits has to produce medical certificates and undergo stringent tests after arrival.

Although no timetable was disclosed, the changes are likely to be announced before the official opening of Shanghai Expo on 1 May, which is expected to attract several million visitors from abroad, said Hao Yang, deputy director of the ministry of health’s disease prevention and control bureau.

Rules on the long-term stay, residence and immigration of HIV/AIDS sufferers will be clearly defined in the near future, he noted.

China, with an HIV-positive population of 740,000, is still among over 60 countries that deny entry to AIDs patients merely because of their HIV status. “The ban imposed in the 1980s due to a lack of knowledge is obsolete and discriminatory," said He Xiong, deputy director of the Beijing centre for disease prevention and control.

“As HIV/AIDS cases have been seen in all provinces in China, a travel ban on foreigners will not help local public health," he noted.

It also affected rising international exchanges and a global campaign against HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and stigma, he said.

In fact, “years before the upcoming change to the law, the Chinese government had realised the existing problems and taken measures to address that," said professor Jing Jun of Tsinghua University.

In 1995, China ended the practice of mandatory HIV screening for foreigners who wanted to enter the country.

Instead, they were required to claim their health conditions, including HIV/AIDS status.

Those making honest claims about their status could find their entry denied, as in the case of Australian writer Robert Dessaix, who was denied entry in March because he claimed HIV-positive status.

However, there have been exceptions. For major international events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the government temporary granted waivers allowing HIV patients to enter the country for the event.

“Such practices date back to September 1995 when China hosted the 4th World Conference on Women," said Hao.