+TALK: DAVID HAERRY | Global travel + HIV

BREAKING NEWS! Australian minister of immigration recognizes Australia is “no longer in step with community sentiment” over current migration policies concerning people living with #hiv, Karl Schmid chats to David Haerry about current immigration obstacles globally for those living with HIV.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl and David Haerry.

DAVID
They exclude, generally, people living with HIV.

KARL
Welcome to “+TALK” on +LIFE. We’re all about turning positive into a plus. Right now, advocates, doctors, scientists, they’re all meeting in Australia for the 12th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science and one of the important topics being discussed is HIV migration, mobility, and health equity, and joining me now to tell me more about that is a keynote speaker, David Haerry. Good to see you, David. Thanks for doing this.

DAVID
Thank you, Karl.

KARL
Interestingly enough, apart from all the science talk, there are a lot of interesting forums and discussions. One that you’re taking part in which is called “ACT NOW: Community Forum on HIV Migration, Mobility and Health Equity,” and really goes to what we’re talking about. I was shocked, and am shocked, to learn that Australia, a country that is leading the way in getting on top of HIV, has these rules that if you wanna become a permanent resident, if you’ve gone there on visas and done everything right, but you wanna become a permanent resident, you still have to have an HIV test and if it’s positive, bye-bye.

DAVID
Yes, Australia’s a special case. Jointly, with Canada, they say they have no HIV-specific restrictions. However, they restrict residents and work permit applications from anybody with a chronic disease because they make a complex mathematical calculation of the cost of the person to the health system, and on that basis they exclude, generally, people living with HIV. Canada has become a little bit more relaxed about this because treatments have become cheaper, but Australia is still very anal. New Zealand had the same policy until a few years ago. They relaxed, however, there is still some uncertainty in New Zealand. We should learn more at the meeting in Australia. I have specifically asked to get a little bit more clear information on New Zealand. It’s not as rough anymore, but it’s not without problems still, it seems.

KARL
You’re the keynote speaker at that event. What are some of the key messages that you want those in attendance in Australia to really understand and hear?

DAVID
Key target is get rid of these restrictions and get organized at country level where you have restrictions in place. Form coalitions, seek help, collaborate with UNAIDS. Middle East is a very nasty ground and get out and seek help. It requires pressure from outside. And actually, countries like the Emirates and Qatar, they get dependent on tourism, and Saudi Arabia too, so you can actually exert economic pressure on these countries to adopt their laws. But it requires an active local civil society and, hmm, hmm, hmm. I’m not so positive for the region to make up their minds quickly.

KARL
Well, and interestingly enough, you know, there is a story, there’s a fantastic video that is accompanying, you know, this session and it speaks of a gentleman from the Middle East.

  • [Ahmed] Hello. My name is Ahmed. I live in Morocco and I am HIV-positive.

KARL
Who won the green card lottery to come to America, and anyone who’s migrated to America, myself included, knows about this green card lottery, it is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if you get it. It’s very difficult. This man applied and he should be, and all rights and purposes, be able to come into the country now, as someone living with HIV. But he had to have health tests and he had to have them done in the Middle East and that’s where the problems arose, right?

DAVID
No. He had to have health tests, yes. He got in touch with me, actually, and was seeking for help. It’s a desperate case, I have never seen something like that. He told, his health tests were TB and when his positive TB results were delivered, the physician asked him, “By the way, do you have HIV?” And he honestly said, “Yes.” So the doctor asked for a repeated, for the TB tests to be repeated and then told him, “We will not analyze the results before the end of the year,” where his green card application would expire. So this is not legal restrictions, this is discriminatory behavior by a US consulate doctor, a US federal employee. And there is no possibility to appeal or to react.

KARL
And furthermore, I think the doctor even said to the person, “If you hadn’t told me you were HIV-positive, I would’ve signed this and you’d be on your way to the United States.” I mean-

DAVID
Correct. Correct. So much about telling other people you’re HIV. Shut up. Deny it.

KARL
How do we get beyond this, David? How do we make that change? It really, is it requires people like you and me and those of us in the HIV community, to really not shut up about it, right?

DAVID
Yes, and it requires global collaboration, exchange and global pressure and local pressure on governments to overcome the situation. You know, in many countries, people have a completely crazy picture about people with HIV. It was in Amsterdam a few years ago there was, the big AIDS conference was in Amsterdam, and we had just updated the site and had a press conference and I was approached by a Pakistani journalist who came to me and said, “Listen, are you really living for,” what was it then, “35 years with HIV?” And I said, “Yes, of course.” Then he said, “But you don’t look like.” And then he said, “Would you be happy to give me an interview?” And so he did. So in countries like Pakistan, in the Middle East, people have a terrible picture about people living with HIV, they have no idea how good we do. And this is probably one of the cards we haven’t played well enough in the past years. We say, “U = U,” but what does it tell to people, what does this concept tell to people who are not informed or involved to have no clue about HIV? It says nothing. So the slogan, as cool as it sounds to us, is probably not so effective as a public health message to a larger audience. KARL
Interesting stuff. David Haerry from HIVTravel.org, it has been a pleasure chatting to you. Thank you for taking the time.

DAVID
Thank you, Karl.

KARL
That is gonna do it for this “+TALK.” Remember, you can follow us across social media, we are @PlusLifeMedia, or go to the website, PlusLifeMedia.com. Until next time, take care of yourselves and be nice to each other. See ya.