Indian bureaucracy has displayed its legendary inertia in a medium that requires speedy updates: the internet.
If you have AIDS, you are not welcome to stay in India, state many Indian government’s websites, even when the country removed travel restrictions against people with HIV in 2002.
Even a decade later, the National Portal of India (http://india.gov.in/) and the websites of Indian embassies and consulates, including those in UK, Canada and Australia, have got it wrong.
The confusion has led the US State Department to advise Americans that HIV infection is grounds for deportation from India."India ended mandatory HIV testing and all related restrictions for entry and stay in the country for foreigners in 2002, but some government websites and visa forms have still not been updated. It confuses people," says JVR Prasada Rao, UN secretary general’s special envoy for AIDS, Asia & the Pacific.
The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare had in 2002 announced a policy change ending mandatory HIV testing for foreign-born residents and visa applicants, including students.
This was followed by an e-mail sent by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on September 17, 2010, to Indian missions clarifying there are no travel or residency restrictions for people with HIV. Yet many government websites did not bother to post the updates.
“About 60 countries have border restrictions for people with HIV, with 10 barring them from entering or staying for any reason or length of time and another 30 deporting the infected people,” says Rao, who is also a former Union health secretary.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1985 had clarified that an HIV-free certificate was not required for international travel. Even when the International Health Regulations, 1969 was revised in 2005, WHO did not include HIV as a reason for restriction.
Travel restrictions for foreigners were introduced over two decades ago, when little was known about the new infection, but were later removed.