In an interview with Newsweek Europe Ukip leader Nigel Farage stated that Britain should deny entry to migrants who test positive for HIV, arguing that other countries around the globe take a similar stance. Currently only 5 countries worldwide have a complete bar on the entry and stay of people living with HIV (PLHIV) while 139 countries have no HIV-specific travel restrictions. In early 2010 President Obama rescinded a 22 year old bill that banned HIV positive visitors from entering the U.S. in a bid to help combat the stigma surrounding the disease.
Farage's comments have been met with outrage by Health and Human Rights organisations who warn that such statements exacerbate attitudes of discrimination against PLHIV. The implication that immigration fuels the spread of HIV is false. AVERT's Campaign and Information Officer comments 'the overwhelming majority of people living with HIV in the UK were infected in the UK - the epidemic in this country is not a result of immigrant populations as Nigel Farage might have people believe.'
Far from protecting people from contracting the virus, Government policy that reinforces fear and stigma actively serves to dissuade those at risk from testing in the first place, making AIDS the 'silent killer.' According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, "Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world." This consensus is backed up by the United Nations - who agreed in 2011 to eliminate all HIV-related travel restrictions.
AIDS campaigners agree that HIV-related restrictions on travel are not only ineffective public health policy but also may violate human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights particularly Article 14 which prohibits discrimination. Other anti-discrimination treaties, which could be engaged, include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Status of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. (Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, Oluwafemi, 2011)
In times of austerity and uncertainty and especially in the wake of an Ebola outbreak, conflating fears about health and immigration is a particularly low blow for any politician to make. Sadly this is not a Ukip-only area of interest and earlier this year 20 Conservative backbenchers supported a proposed amendment to the Immigration Bill which would impose HIV and Hepatitis B testing on all immigrants. Time restrictions and an unfavourable reception from the Home Office meant that the amendment was not debated and therefore did not form part of the bill.
The general public and Media reaction to Farage's comments has been that to introduce such rules would be regressive politics that would actually hinder the fight against AIDS by diverting funds away from testing and treatment and by reigniting the social stigma around the virus.
20 October 2014