UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for an end to discrimination against people carrying the AIDS virus, including travel restrictions imposed on them by some countries.
"I call for a change in laws that uphold stigma and discrimination, including restrictions on travel for people living with HIV," he said at the opening of a two-day, high-level meeting in the General Assembly on UN targets set in 2001 to roll back the disease worldwide.
"Halting and reversing the spread of AIDS is not only a goal in itself, it is a prerequisite for reaching almost all the others (poverty-reduction Millenium Development Goals by 2015)," he added.
He said that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, "it is shocking that there should still be discrimination against those at high risk, such as men who have sex with men, or stigma attached to individuals living with HIV."
"I am a person living with HIV, and by revealing my HIV status publicly, I am taking a risk of being banned from entering this country and over 70 other countries around the world," said AIDS activisit Ratri Suryadarma of Indonesia.
A letter signed by 345 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was sent to leaders and ambassadors of concerned countries to urge them to lift the restrictions.
According to UNAIDS, the global standard-bearer in the fight against HIV, 74 countries are subjecting HIV carriers to restrictive measures, including a mention of the disease on their passports.
Twelve among them -- Armenia, Colombia, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sudan, the United States and Yemen -- barred entry to HIV carriers, often citing public health concerns and the high cost of treatment.
Innocent Laison, a member of the Senegalese NGO Africaso, denounced such restrictions, pointing that countries which impose them allow their own HIV-infected nationals to go abroad.
Salvadoran President Elias Antonio Saca, who lifted such restrictions in his country four years ago, backed the NGOs' call.
"I appeal to the international community and all governments for the scrapping of walls and barriers which restrict the free movement of people living with HIV," he said.
Meanwhile AIDS expert Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed the importance of prevention and continuing research.
He recalled that AIDS was discovered 27 years ago and that considerable funding was still needed to combat the disease.