WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a move said not only to deal with HIV-related stigma and discrimination, but also to help boost business, CEOs from some of the world’s leading companies – including Levi Strauss & Co., The Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, the National Basketball Association, and Virgin unite – called on 46 countries to lift travel restrictions for HIV-positive people.
The pledge is an initiative of UNAIDS, in partnership with GBCHealth, which is mobilizing the corporate signatures. Formerly called the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tubercolosis and Malaria, GBCHealth is a coalition of companies that address global health challenges.
Over 20 CEOs signed a pledge to oppose HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence.
“There is no evidence that these restrictions protect public health,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. “They are discriminatory and violate international human rights standards. People living with HIV (PLHIV) should have equal access to opportunity and freedom of movement in today’s globalized world.”
Most HIV-related restrictions were imposed by governments in the early days of the epidemic when ignorance and fear surrounded the transmission of HIV and treatment did not exist. Since then, however, it has been learned that such measures do not protect public health and that there is no economic justification for them, especially since antiretroviral therapy now enables PLHIV to be fully productive employees.
UNAIDS counts 46 countries, territories and areas that have some form of restriction on entry, stay or residence based on the HIV status of those seeking to enter or remain. Some countries deny travel for short-term stays, such as business trips or conferences; and some deny longer term stays or residence, such as work-related moves, migration, study abroad programs, and diplomatic and consular postings.
Five countries have a complete ban on the entry and stay of PLHIV for any reason or any length of time. An additional five countries require that a person show that he/she is HIV-negative even for short stays. Twenty countries deport individuals once their HIV infection is discovered. Varying forms of restrictions exist in other countries.
Many countries have lifted their travel restrictions, including most recently, Namibia, Ukraine, Armenia, Fiji, and Republic of Moldova.
“These outdated laws and policies make no sense in today’s globalized world, where work-related travel is routine for corporations,” said Michael Schreiber, managing director of GBCHealth. “Companies need to send their employees overseas, regardless of their HIV status.”
The CEOs who signed highlighted how the bans adversely affect businesses.
According to Chip Bergh, Levi Strauss & Co. CEO, HIV-related restrictions “not only hurt individuals, they also hurt business. In today’s competitive landscape where global business travel is essential, we need to be able to send our talent and skills where they’re needed. We call on countries with these restrictions to rescind them immediately.”
“Travel restrictions for PLHIV are blatant discrimination,” said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Unite. “Everyone should have a chance to travel freely. Treatment has allowed PLHIV to live fully productive lives, and these laws and policies are downright archaic. I urge governments around the world to repeal their bans and encourage business leaders to join me in taking a stand.”
The CEOs who joined the pledge came from: Access Bank Plc, Aetna, Anglo American plc, BD, BET Networks, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Gap Inc., Getty Images, Gilead Sciences Inc., H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, HEINEKEN NV, Hub One International Company Ltd., Johnson & Johnson, Kenneth Cole Productions, Levi Strauss & Co., Merck & Co., Mylan, National Basketball Association, Nordstrom Inc., OraSure Technologies Inc., Vastergaard Frandsen, Virgin Unite, and the former chairman of the MTVN International.
The CEO campaign will continue, as it intends to obtain more than 100 signatures by World AIDS Day 2012 on December 1.
“The private sector can influence these governments to do the right thing,” Schreiber said. “We call on CEOs to show your leadership by joining the pledge to end discrimination of PLHIV.”