Leaving home is as risky as ever for many HIV-positive migrants, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
Immigration laws and stringent requirements for accessing free health care create often insurmountable barriers to treatment and care for migrants living with HIV, HRW noted in the report released last week.
The global rights watchdog found that international migrants in deportation centres often had to go without treatment, and sometime travelled without medication to avoid disclosing their HIV-positive status to customs officials.
"The really surprising thing is that it hasn't been fully addressed - and we've known for 20 years that migrants are vulnerable to HIV infection," Joe Amon, director of HRW's health and human rights programme, told IRIN/PlusNews.
"We've even targeted prevention programmes towards migrants - all over Africa you'll see billboards at border crossings - but the big question is, 'How do you develop treatment programmes to allow migrants to access drugs as they cross those borders?'."
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that almost three percent of the world's population live outside the borders of their birth country; countless more, classed as internal migrants, are vulnerable in their own countries.
In print, on the ground
Africa's economic powerhouse, South Africa, registered 8.5 million entries by foreign nationals into the country in 2006, according to the government body, Statistics South Africa.
HRW said irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees were offered a wide range of human rights on paper but, in reality, non-nationals were often denied HIV-related health services because they could not present a South African identity document to prove citizenship.
|With or without a permit, migrants are entitled to access basic health care and ARVs; the challenge is that there is still confusion around this|
It's a problem Jo Vearey, a researcher for the Forced Migration Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, has seen first-hand in the course of her work at local clinics.
"With or without a permit, migrants are entitled to access basic health care and antiretrovirals (ARVs); the challenge is that there is still some confusion around this," she said.
"Some facilities create their own ... policies, requiring the green ID books, which can be a problem for South Africans and foreigners alike. Not having a green identity document doesn't actually mean you're undocumented - you may have lost it, you may be waiting for one, you may be lost in the system."
A report released this week by the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), an advocacy organization, has called on government to increase foreigners' access to health services, including ARVs, post-exposure prophylaxis and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
CoRMSA has also urged the region to adopt the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Policy Framework for Population Mobility and Communicable Diseases, currently in draft form, which seeks to improve regional coordination of communicable disease control, and ensure migrants' access to equitable health care and travel documents.
HRW's Amon said the draft legislation, which could lead to regional health passports to facilitate cross-border care, was one example of the direction in which HIV and AIDS care and treatment should be heading.
"You have donors funding programmes on either side of a border, but not figuring out ways to facilitate cross-border treatment," Amon said. "National governments need to realize that denying treatment to migrants is counterproductive to their own HIV and AIDS efforts."
The HRW report urged countries to include migrants in their national HIV and AIDS responses by removing eligibility requirements for basic healthcare, and lifting HIV-related travel restrictions.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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