The Chinese government has been criticised for barring HIV positive delegates from attending the board meeting of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Kuming, China.

At an international meeting of AIDS activists gathered in Abuja, Nigeria on Friday, Human Rights Watch said that China should focus its efforts on stopping HIV transmission, not on limiting the freedom of movement, expression and speech of people living with HIV.

When arranging the November 11-13 board meeting in China, the Global Fund board received assurances from the Chinese government that delegates to the meeting representing people living with HIV/AIDS would not be required to disclose their HIV status on immigration landing cards or be subject to a current law excluding HIV-positive individuals from entering China.

On September 1, however, without advance notice, the Chinese government made disclosure of HIV status a requirement on all visa applications.

“Discrimination on the basis of HIV status in terms of international travel is both a violation of human rights and an ineffective public health strategy,” said Joe Amon, director of Human Rights Watch’s HIV/AIDS program.

In recent years, the Chinese government has strengthened legislation related to AIDS, including expanding access to antiretroviral drugs, providing legal protection from discrimination, and scaling up methadone therapy for injection drug users.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, AIDS activists continue to be intimidated and detained by Chinese security forces, and those groups most vulnerable to infection – including men who have sex with men, and sex workers – are routinely harassed and abused by the police.

Responding to pressure from representatives of people living with HIV/AIDS on the Global Fund board who threatened to boycott the meeting, the Chinese government has now promised to rescind the new visa requirements and has said that they will work toward overturning their ban on people living with HIV/AIDS from entering the country.

Human Rights Watch called on the Chinese government to take immediate concrete steps toward overturning the ban, and said that the Global Fund should closely scrutinise the Chinese government’s funding proposal to ensure that it included support for civil society organisations and respect for human rights.

“Until AIDS activists in China are allowed to speak freely, until people living with HIV are allowed to move freely, and until the government focuses its strategies on effective, rights-based interventions, the Global Fund should find other places to hold its meetings, and support other countries instead,” said Amon.

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