Causes, Experiences

HIV: A heavyweight in my suitcase

I have been travelling to different countries for a long time. I was born in one country and raised in another. My parents are not only from different countries, they are from different continents.

Canada, USA, inter-railing in Europe, a university internship in overseas, four years abroad for my first job, volunteering in different African countries and tourism around the world. So far, I have visited 26 countries in total.

I can not imagine no longer travelling and exploring other places of the world. Travelling from one place to another is what has made me the person I am today.

But now things won’t be as easy as saving money and booking holidays.

Since I found out I was HIV positive my life has been passing in slow motion. Each day I am more conscience about how much my life has changed. It won’t be as simple as taking some pills each day for the rest of my life. Now I need to check laws. Am I allowed to enter this country? For how long? Work permit? Resident permit? Will I be able to continue my career in international development?

There are 24 countries where I could get deported if they found out I am HIV positive.

From now on I am categorized as PLHIV (people living with HIV) and I will face discrimination in my international movements.

For example, long stays for study or work require permits that could include an HIV test. I am not against HIV testing if it is done with the intention of stopping people from remaining infected without knowing it. But when tests are used simply to deny visas, I cannot support them.

The Global Database on HIV related travel restrictions gives different categories:

  • Countries without restrictions.
  • Countries with entry bar.
  • Countries with short term restrictions.
  • Countries with long term restrictions.
  • Countries with unclear laws/practices; more information needed.
  • Countries without information.
  • Countries deporting people with HIV.

I encourage you to check about your own country legislations.


Fig. 1. Status of HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, and residence in 193 member states of the World Health Organization in June 2011.

We are in 2015, and just 5 years ago, the USA removed its “travel ban” for PLHIV to enter, stay or reside – the ban that meant there could not be international HIV/AIDS conferences in USA. This ban was place from 1987, the year I was born.

Some bans are supposedly based on economic concerns: how much does HIV cost the national health system?

If the reasons are economic why not extend the travel ban to people with other diseases/disabilities or family history of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, alzheimers, alcoholism, mental disorders or obesity? Those cost a lot of money too.

In real life, nobody is free of getting sick at some time or another.

Other justifications are based on the perceived danger to public health or public safety. As somebody with HIV, I have developed a high awareness of my situation and I and other HIV positive people engage in different levels of activism to reduce new infections. This does not mean that all people with HIV are “good citizens”, but this goes beyond moral or judicial judgement, also applied to non-positive citizens.

To be forced to declare your positive status, if you will face discrimination to obtain a visa, only dissuades people from getting tested.

HIV ban restrictions don’t stop the spread. People need to get tested to prevent new infections, but this won’t be universalized until HIV positive people stop suffering from stigma and discrimination.

I have already travelled abroad since discovering my HIV status. I took a note from my doctor in case I faced some problems carrying my medicine. My next step will be to move back to my host country in Africa, where I will sign my contract, my boss will pay all the legal requirements for a non-citizen and I will start paying taxes.

My diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t contribute.


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