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Howard Criticised for Comments on HIV Immigration

In a radio interview on Southern Cross Broadcasting, Australian Prime Minister John Howard voiced his views regarding stricter control for immigration of HIV-positive individuals to Australia. ‘That’s why I say prima facie, my position is no – although there can be some circumstances where there may be a humanitarian reason and under certain conditions for that to occur, but generally speaking – no’.

His remarks have provoked widespread criticism from rights groups for HIV/AIDS policy. For starters, his remarks were prompted by the report that 70 HIV-positive individuals had immigrated to Victoria. However, that figure is deceiving because only 9 of the 70 HIV-positive cases were actual migrants from abroad. The other 61 were either diagnosed in other Australian states or Australian or New Zealand citizens who already had right of entry. Moreover, under the current laws, immigration of people infected with HIV is already restricted and most entering do so for humanitarian reasons or as a spouse or partner of an Australian citizen.

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Currently, the only disease explicitly mentioned in Australian immigration law is tuberculosis (TB). Don Baxter, Executive Director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), has stated that Mr. Howard is wrong to link TB and AIDS as public health risks. ‘Unlike TB, which is airborne and highly contagious, Australians can easily protect themselves from HIV infection – it’s called safe sex and not sharing needles’, Mr. Baxter then continued on to say, ‘Everybody knows this and it is what the government should be reinforcing, not trying to provide some false sense of security that Australians can have unsafe sex with people from other countries because the government has screened all the HIV-positive ones out. This is not possible and giving that impression amounts to seriously bad public health policy’.

The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) also rejected Howard’s remarks as, ‘ill-informed, misguided and unhelpful’ and declared, ‘It’s HIV that we should be targeting, not people with HIV’.

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