Bush Signs Landmark AIDS Bill, HIV Travel Ban Repealed (But Only Sort Of)

In what AIDS activists are hailing as one of the true positive legacies of his administration, yesterday George Bush signed the most extensive global AIDS relief bill in history.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), hailed President Bush for signing legislation to re-authorize PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). The measure, which was signed in a formal signing ceremony earlier today in Washington, increases funding for the successful global AIDS program from $15 billion up to $48 billion over the next five years. As a result, PEPFAR, which is likely to be among the President’s most successful and lasting legacies, will save five to seven million lives over the next five years.

“Passage of this historic legislation is a crucial turning point in the battle to control AIDS around the world,” said Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides medical care and services to more than 79,000 individuals in 20 countries worldwide. “Over the past several months, AHF worked diligently to persuade legislators to restore PEPFAR’s priority on treatment. We take our hats off to everyone who helped ensure that this lifesaving global AIDS bill became a reality.”

Attached to that bill was a rider that repealed the administrative ban on travelers with HIV coming to the United States. But activists point out that the repeal merely ends the “blanket” ban on HIV travel and returns the case-by-case decision responsibility to the Department of Health and Human Services. Warns one activist:

“HHS is where the ban lived, administratively, for the first 6 years of its life [1987-1993], and it did plenty of damage there. If the entry ban ends up solely an HHS matter, it will be critical for us to maintain our vigilance and unity, so that the administration doesn’t split the ban – lifting it for travelers and some visa holders, but keeping it in place for long-term visa seekers and immigrants.”

In other words, there’s still work to be done here. Andrew Sullivan may have celebrated prematurely.