Two years after Congress approved the policy change, President Obama announced this afternoon that in January 2010 the United States will end the policy of forbidding international travel and immigration based on HIV status. The statement came at the signing of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act, which authorizes a 5% annual increase in the program’s funding for the next four years.
At the signing ceremony today, President Obama had this to say (excerpted) about the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act:
Over the past 19 years this legislation has evolved from an emergency response into a comprehensive national program for the care and support of Americans living with HIV/AIDS. It helps communities that are most severely affected by this epidemic and often least served by our health care system, including minority communities, the LGBT community, rural communities, and the homeless. It’s often the only option for the uninsured and the underinsured. And it provides life-saving medical services to more than half a million Americans every year, in every corner of the country.
It’s helped us to open a critical front on the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. But let me be clear: This is a battle that’s far from over, and it’s a battle that all of us need to do our part to join. AIDS may no longer be the leading killer of Americans ages 25 to 44, as it once was. But there are still 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and more than 56,000 new infections occur every single year.
Some communities still experience unacceptably high rates of infection. Gay men make up 2 or 3 percent of the population, but more than half of all new cases. African Americans make up roughly half of all new cases. Nearly half of all new cases now occur in the South. And a staggering 7 percent of Washington, D.C.’s residents between the ages of 40 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS — and the epidemic here isn’t as severe as it is in several other U.S. cities.
So tackling this epidemic will take far more aggressive approaches than we’ve seen in the past — not only from our federal government, but also state and local governments, from local community organizations, and from places of worship.
But it will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested; that has stopped people from facing their own illness; and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long. A couple of years ago Michelle and I were in Africa and we tried to combat the stigma when we were in Kenya by taking a public HIV/AIDS test. And I’m proud to announce today we’re about to take another step towards ending that stigma.
The President then moved on to the Travel and Immigration ban:
Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease — yet we’ve treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic — yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.
If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that’s why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. It’s a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it’s a step that will keep families together, and it’s a step that will save lives.
Between the two measures today and signing the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law on Wednesday, this has been an historic week for the LGBT community. I am so grateful to Congress and President Obama for their action.
Because of this week’s actions, people living with HIV/AIDS virus can enter the United States without lying about their status, and without smuggling their life-preserving medications. People who have not had access to HIV testing and treatment will have resources to better care for the disease and to get information to slow its spread. People who are victims of of the twin human viruses of hate and fear will have access to tools previously withheld because of the victim’s orientation or gender preference.
So thank you President Obama, and thank you members of Congress.
The next battle awaits. We’re hoping we don’t have to bring 200,000 people back to Washington, DC before you take action on these other threats to human liberty.