Shutting the Barn Door

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, has suggested banning HIV positive immigrants to Australia. Several nations actually have severe restrictions on people with HIV and AIDS, including Japan, China, and many Middle Eastern nations, which makes me feel rather squicky, inside and out.

First of all, HIV clearly exists in Australia, so banning immigrants with the disease does not appear to serve a public health function to me. In an area where a disease is not present, restricting entry makes a bit more sense to me. Take, for example, Hawaii, which has an extensive rabies quarantine because rabies does not exist in Hawaii, and could devastate the natural environment. I support that. I do not support banning HIV positive immigration to a nation with existing HIV and AIDS cases.

In Japan, AIDS affects about .02% of the population. Which is a pretty awesomely low infection rate. However, many Japanese are poorly educated about AIDS, and the disease is strongly stigmatized. I do not think that this is healthy. People get AIDS in a lot of ways, and treating them like pariahs is not a constructive approach to the situation. Restricting immigration is one way to ostracize HIV patients, and it also isolates members of regular society from people with active infections. By interacting with HIV patients, you can learn about the disease, and reduce your chances of getting it. By viewing them as “other,” you will put yourself at risk due to your lack of understanding.

Banning HIV patients from starting a new life in a foreign country…is absurd. Especially since Australia and New Zealand, by all accounts, suffer from a shortage of skilled professionals. Australia may not be as impacted as New Zealand, but surely restricting people on the basis of their infection status is potentially dangerous to them as a society. A concert pianist can have AIDS. So can a skilled computer technician. Should Australia allow its industrial and creative sectors to suffer because of a stigma about AIDS? I say no, personally.

I understand the knee jerk desire, I do. But is there an influx of HIV positive immigrants barking at the gates of Australia? Is there something that is leading to this suddenly urgent concern? Surely the Australian government would be better served by improving HIV education within the country, and by focusing on providing care to citizens who have it while also working to prevent the appearance of additional cases.

Australia only recently ended the “White Australia” policy. Is this really a good idea? I think it feeds into the phobia about infectious disease in a pretty major way. The United States already does it, denying citizenship to HIV positive people, along with individuals with active tuberculosis infections. While we do not restrict immigration, changing immigration status to citizenship is essentially impossible. That, in my opinion, is a pretty sad thing. It also has not helped to reduce AIDS rates in the United States…at all.

Don’t do it, Australia!