When Harvard takes a stand, it rarely goes unnoticed. And with the decision to move the 1992 International AIDS Conference from Boston to Amsterdam, the Harvard AIDS Institute is declaring its opposition to what they term a discriminatory U.S. government policy restricting travel by those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But whether or not the move ultimately results in the lifting of the conditions imposed on HIV-infected people wishing to enter the country, its immediate result may be that some community health organizations and younger AIDS researchers will be prevented from participating in the conference because of the expense.
To Exclude or Not?
Over the last year, the fate of the conference--which was sponsored by the AIDS Institute and scheduled to be held May 1992 in Boston--was often in doubt, as the federal government considered whether or not a list of diseases justifying exclusion from the U.S. should include HIV.
Last November, Congress charged Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan with updating the existing list, which included HIV as well as other diseases, such as active pulmonary tuberculosis.
In January, Sullivan presented the list, which did not include HIV, to the Justice Department for review.
But the Justice Department, which runs the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was concerned with the potential for increased medical costs and strains on resources if HIV-positive individuals entered the country.
When the department failed to render a decision on the list before a Bush Administration imposed deadline of August 1, an interim restriction preventing HIV-positive individuals from entering the country went into effect.
The restriction, however, includes a waiver that allows the HIV-positive person to enter the U.S. for the purpose of attending conferences, receiving medical attention, visiting family or conducting business in the public interest.
Despite the exemption to the ban provided by the waiver, the Harvard AIDS Institute announced on August 16 that because of the "continuing uncertainty" of the country's policy toward HIV-positive individuals, it would not hold the conference in Boston.
The decision to move it to Amsterdam was announced September 11 by the institute, after consultation with top University officials, including President Neil L. Rudenstine, says Harvey V. Fineberg '67, dean of Harvard's School of Public Health (SPH) and a force behind the creation of the Institute. The Netherlands currently has no travel restrictions for HIV-positive individuals.
AIDS Patients Instrumental
Those involved with planning the conference say that it must take place, even if it has to be in another country.
"We have all the more reason to continue working together to end the discriminatory U.S. policy, so that we can bring International AIDS Conferences back to this country, which have contributed so much and has suffered so much from this pandemic," says Jonathan M. Mann '69, one of the conference organizers and director of the Institute's International AIDS Center.
"We refused to let the progress of the conference be held hostage to one country's policy," Mann says.