HIV positive migrants – not safe in Britain

According to the United Nations: ‘There is no public health rationale for restricting liberty of movement or choice of residence on the grounds of HIV status...any restrictions on these rights based on suspected or real HIV status alone, including HIV screening of international travellers, are discriminatory and cannot be justified by public health concerns.’

Worldwide, 39m people are infected with HIV (compared to 8m in 1990), with Sub-Saharan Africa the hardest hit region where about 25m people are infected. About 6,000 15-24 year olds become infected with HIV every day. More than 25m people have died of AIDS since 1981 and Africa has 12m AIDS orphans.

150 delegates from South Africa to the International AIDS conference in Toronto are reported to be seeking refugee status in Canada. A study of maternal deaths in South Africa from 2002 to 2004 shows that AIDS is the biggest single killer of new mothers, but South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang denies the link between HIV and AIDS and insists herbal remedies are sufficient to clear the infection. South Africa is the richest country in Africa yet among the worst hit by HIV. It is overwhelmingly the poor black population who are affected – over 10%, compared to 0.6% of the white population.

The British media propagates stories about asylum seekers and refugees coming to Britain for medical treatment, describing it as ‘health tourism’. HIV treatment represents less than 0.1% of the total NHS budget, approximately £279m is spent on HIV treatment and prevention as opposed to £3.8bn per year on alcohol-related illnesses and £7bn per year on heart disease. In 2005, the House of Commons Health Committee reported that HIV positive people from overseas tend to seek treatment late in their illness and are therefore unlikely to have come only for treatment. 73% of HIV positive migrants arriving in Britain are unaware they have HIV.

Before April 2004 anyone who had lived in Britain for a year or was applying for asylum had access to free NHS treatment. Under new legislation, only those granted legal status in Britain can have free HIV treatment (treatment for other sexually transmitted infections remains free for all). Labour said ‘The only people who have anything to fear...are those who are abusing the system and shouldn’t be here’. In reality, those affected are too poor to pay, not legally allowed to work and cannot leave the country. They are therefore left more unwell and more at risk of passing the infection on. Many cases are reported of people admitted to A&E unwell, subsequently diagnosed with HIV, treated, then billed (for thousands of pounds) and vanishing without ongoing treatment.

In July 2006, the British Medical Journal stated that Labour’s policy of denying treatment to ‘failed’ asylum seekers living with HIV violates international human rights law and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Kanyama must stay!
Kanyama is a mathematics teacher originally from Zambia. He came to Britain in 2002 to pursue a master’s degree in Business Administration. His then partner and children had settled status in Britain. In June 2003, Kanyama was diagnosed with HIV and began anti-retroviral treatment. In November 2005 the Home Office wrote to Kanyama telling him Britain was not responsible for his treatment and he must return to Zambia. His appeal has been unsuccessful. Zambia has 1.1m people infected with HIV, of whom the sickest 200,000 are in desperate need of treatment, but only about 21,000 receive anti-retroviral medication provided either by the Zambian government at a subsidised cost of $16 per month or via private prescription, costing $200 a month. Two out of three Zambians have no access to safe, clean water and 80% live on $1 or less a day.

London FRFI is working with the Kanyama Must Stay campaign to secure Kanyama’s right to stay in Britain. The next event is a picket of Communications House on Tuesday 3 October, 1-2pm. For details contact 020 7837 1688 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Hannah Caller

FRFI 193 October / November 2006

 

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