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HIV Experts Criticize Australian PM's Suggestion for Ban on Entry of HIV-infected

HIV experts in Australia have criticized Prime Minister John Howard for calling for a ban on the entry of HIV-infected persons and asserted that there was no evidence to// suggest migrants were responsible for increasing HIV infections in the country.

Prime Minister Howard had made the suggestion in an interview to a radio station in Victoria state, which has seen a sharp rise in HIV cases.

Don Baxter, speaking on behalf of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, noted that HIV tests were already among health checks prospective immigrants were given, and most HIV-positive applicants were rejected on the grounds that they could pose an unfair burden on the public health system. "It's very tight already," Baxter said.

Dr. Chris Lemoh, an infectious disease specialist who is working on a doctorate on the spread of AIDS among African immigrants in Victoria, said excluding people with HIV should be condemned.

"It's a hysterical overreaction, it mixes racism with a phobia about infectious disease," he said. "To not allow people to come on the basis of any health condition is immoral, it's unethical and it's impractical to enforce."

Yusef Azard of the UK's National Aids Trust, said tighter controls on immigration would not necessarily have an effect on the rate of infection.

"The United States has had these sorts of strict entry restrictions on HIV for many, many years," he said.

"It's got the highest rate of HIV in the developed world. So it doesn't actually do any good. People go underground. Stigma and discrimination increases in the country and makes the response to HIV all the more difficult."

Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike too had questioned the adequacy of immigration checks, saying the increase in Victoria's HIV notifications was partially due to the arrival of HIV-positive people from overseas.

She did say 70 of the 334 new HIV notifications in Victoria l
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