John Howard says people who are HIV positive should not be allowed to migrate to Australia. Well, the fact is that already, according to the most complete database I could find (aidsnet.ch – the Swiss HIV/AIDS Documention Center online), Australia already asks all intending immigrants who are over 15 years old “to present an HIV test result with their application. It is unlikely that an immigration permit is granted to people presenting a positive test result.” However:
People with HIV may immigrate to Australia if one of the following criteria is met:
— if he/she has a spouse (including a de facto spouse) who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident
— if he/she has a fiance who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident
— if he/she has a long-term same-sex relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident
— if he/she is the dependent child of an Australian citizen or permanent resident
— being a former Australian citizen
— being a refugee
People applying on one of the above grounds still have to satisfy the Australian authorities that they will not
— prejudice the access of Australian citizens to healthcare facilities
— be a risk to public health or safety
— constitute an undue cost to the Australian community
Satisfying the first two criteria is not a problem for people with HIV, but they are sometimes refused permission to immigrate because of the cost of their health care. Costs are assessed for each individual applicant, based on his/her life expectancy and on an estimate of the total cost of the medication and of the hospital and other medical care services the person might require. It appears to the AFAO that this criterion is being enforced more harshly, and that more people with HIV are now being refused permission to immigrate because of the estimated costs of their healthcare, than was previously the case.
Howard didn’t do his homework, as he admits:
“I would like to get a bit more counsel and advice on that [but] my initial reaction is no,” he said on Southern Cross Radio. “There may be some humanitarian concerns that could temper that in certain cases but prima facie, no.”
Mr Howard made the comments in response to a Victorian Health Department study that found an increase in the number of HIV positive people moving to the state.
Mr Howard says Health Minister Tony Abbott is concerned about the issue but the law would need to be changed to ban HIV positive people from entering the country.
HIV+ status is a condition not a disease. It is also very hard to pass this condition on to others under normal everyday circumstances. Even at the extreme end, as with Lord Malcolm, when the condition has become Stage 4 AIDS and opportunistic infections and lack of a functioning immune system are killing you, it is difficult to pass the disease on. My chances of contracting AIDS through visiting Lord Malcolm, even through showing the more normal signs of affection towards him, are about as remote as being run over by a bus while typing this entry. Now of course it is just possible a bus may burst through my wall at any moment, but it is not very likely, even though I am on the ground floor close to a road. In fact I am more of a threat to Lord M, should I be harbouring flu or gastroenteritis without knowing it, than he is to me. Further, the majority of people with HIV live lives, if they have adequate medical care, as productive (or not) as you or I, who may not be HIV positive. (A note: I don’t want to downplay the significance of HIV even given the improved outlook. Treatments are expensive and are not always pleasant. The virus is capable of nasty surprises too. Prevention remains the best strategy. Needless to say, in places where medical treatment is unavailable or inadequate HIV is still a terrible scourge and a major pandemic.)
So what is this all about? FEAR, that’s what. Howard’s magic juice. Loves the stuff, he does. Whip it out whenever you can; it turns people on, it seems, so they can vent their indignation in response. It’s the double bass and percussion of the Howard orchestra.
Although the United States has maintained its HIV ban, many other nations have eliminated such restrictions on those entering their borders, following the recommendations of international and domestic public health organizations that a ban is unnecessary and even counterproductive to public health. Indeed, several nations have denounced discrimination against HIV-positive individuals in the immigration context. France and the United Kingdom have admitted noncitizens with HIV as have, for example, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Thailand, all of which lifted HIV exclusion laws and policies. — Suzanne B. Goldberg, “Immigration Issues and Travel Restrictions” (USA).
George W Bush in December 2006 eased bans on HIV+ visitors to the USA, but “there is no indication that the far more damaging ban on HIV positive immigrants will also be lifted.” (The Devil is in the Details.)
More details about what prompted John Howard’s comments on barring HIV+ immigrants appear in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: PM endorses strict HIV screening. It appears a complicating factor has been the “absence of HIV screening tests for more than 200,000 temporary workers and others who arrive each year,” a recent immigration phenomenon encouraged by the government. However, close examination of the actual numbers alluded to in the ABC report above (“…Victorian Health Department study that found an increase in the number of HIV positive people moving to the state”) shows that there were 70 such “immigrants”, 50 of whom had come from other states in Australia. Of the remaining 20 “about half were in Australian-born people diagnosed overseas, and about five were thought to be New Zealanders.” According to ABC radio last night the final tally is 9.
The executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Don Baxter, said there was minimal evidence that HIV-positive migrants posed a risk of spreading the disease.
“If it is happening, we would know about it because we have the best HIV screening in the world,” Mr Baxter said. Any suggestion that temporary visa holders should be screened was a “red herring” because cost, logistical problems and the lack of evidence that it was needed made such an extension unlikely.
He said Ms Pike’s suggestion that health checks on migrants were not rigorous enough was an “appalling” attempt to divert attention from Victoria’s poor record on containing the HIV rate.
The predictable and depressing effect of the PM’s entry into the debate on the side of unreason but wholly in terms of his own variety of political correctness, and of course of Victoria’s blame-shifting, appears already in the Herald’s ongoing reader poll:
Call to ban HIV positive migrants
Where do you stand?
Ban them – 54%
Do not ban them – 46%
On an unrelated matter
Queer Penguin is good on convicted heroin peddler and reformed addict Michael Coutts-Trotter – aka Mr Tanya Plibersek – being appointed NSW Director-General of Education. My only doubts really were about his knowledge of education issues. Anyone who has so signally got his life back together should be lauded to the skies, in my view, not subjected to the kinds of attacks some have thought proper. My view was confirmed in talking last night to someone who actually knows Mr Coutts-Trotter.
When the drug rehabilitation system actually succeeds, what are we supposed to do? Mutter about “leopards” and “spots”?
The very day (1 June 2007) a good friend of mine dies of AIDS-related illness, Howard is at it again with this ignorant populist nonsense: see Triumph of the dill.