India to its missions: Donít ask for HIV tests of visa applicants

India has asked all its missions not to insist on HIV testing of foreigners, especially foreign students, after it found out that Indian embassies and consulates abroad are displaying "mandatory testing" on their visa forms and websites.

The circular has recently been issued by Joint Secretary (passport and visa division) in the Ministry of External Affairs to all Indian envoys across the world.

Indian missions in the US, UK, Australia, Russia, Canada and the Netherlands are among the defaulters found to have displayed the requirement, despite a Home Ministry decision to discontinue with the HIV testing procedure a few years ago.

Sources said attention was drawn to the MEA by various civil society groups, including the Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV and AIDS (FPA), a voluntary outfit comprising MPs cutting across all major political parties.

The activists hailed the MEA circular to all missions as, according to them, it puts India on a par with the US and China that have recently lifted their travel restrictions.

According to FPA activists, the move was prompted by a parliamentary question in April 2010 by Congress MP in Rajya Sabha E M Sudarsana Natchiappan, who is also state organiser of the FPA.

In a statement issued through UNAIDS, Rajya Sabha MP Oscar Fernandes, who is also the FPA president, said: "I am pleased that India has clarified its position to lift HIV-related travel restrictions."

UNAIDS country coordinator Charles Gilks said, "Such regulations were issued by many countries in the 1980s when little was known about HIV, and there was more of confusion and fear about the virus. Globally there is no evidence that such restrictions prevent HIV transmission or protect public health. The MEA move upholds India's commitment to human rights and dignity of all people, including those who are living with HIV."

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