International AIDS Conference: Why are we still taken to a secondary room at immigration?
I arrived in Washington DC yesterday to attend meetings before the International AIDS Conference, which starts on 22 July, and to report on them through this blog for the next couple of weeks. What many people do not know is that the US has been unable to host this particular conference since 1990 because of a travel ban on people living with HIV. Thankfully, after a lot of advocacy from HIV activists and other people working in the HIV sector, the ban was lifted in early 2010 after being signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
However, for some of us who had already declared our HIV status to US immigration and travelled to the US on special visas, sadly very little has changed. Every time I get to the immigration desk at any point in the US, my HIV status gets flagged up and I am taken to a secondary room, where other people suspected of all sorts of things are referred to, waiting to hear whether they will be let in into the US – or not.
Well, yesterday was no exception, I ended in a tiny room to be questioned just as I have been many times before the travel ban was lifted and many times after. So what has changed? As far as I am concerned, the ban got lifted but the implementation of the ban is still a challenge. So for me the criminalization and stigmatization of living with HIV continues and we need to continue to advocate that people should be allowed to enter the US without having to be questioned about their HIV status.
This time though, I appeared to have got some sympathy from one of the immigration officers who attended to me in the secondary room. The officer asked me if I always have to come to the secondary room each time I travel to the US and I said yes. He went on to say that he would like to rectify this situation for me by giving the address of a website I could write to and ask them why I constantly have to be placed in the secondary room – even though the travel ban on people living with HIV was lifted two years ago! I have every intention to pursue this.
Back to the international conference whose theme this year is “Turning the Tide Together”. A lot is expected of this conference, and what is likely to figure most prominently in the discussions is where we are in terms of finding a cure, and how much time and money is being invested in the process.
Of course, the issue of where the money is going to come from to invest in research, in treatment or any work on HIV is going to be an on-going topic. The numbers of those living with HIV who need treatment will only continue to rise and the full scale implementation of treatment for prevention needed to happen yesterday.
Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma is an Advocacy and Networks Officer for the Community Health & HIV team at Christian Aid. Winnie has also been living with HIV for almost 25 years.
Tagged in: AIDS, alexis onahain, health, HIV, hiv cure, HIV treatment, immigration, International AIDS Conference, stigma
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