The Bush administration served notice Friday it intends to lift rules that prohibit foreigners with AIDS, leprosy or any of five venereal diseases - including gonorrhea and syphilis - from entering the United States.
The new policy, said Health Secretary Louis Sullivan, will "bring us in line with the best medical thinking, here and abroad."After consulting with medical experts, administration officials concluded the new policy will not pose an additional AIDS risk to Americans because the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, is not spread by casual contact. The same reasoning applied to the other diseases being removed from the disqualification list for visitors and immigrants.
"The risk of . . . HIV infection comes not from the nationality of the infected person, but from the specific behaviors that are practiced," said the draft regulation of Sullivan's Department of Health and Human Services. A final version will be drawn after a 30-day period for public comment and could be implemented in June.
HIV infection and the six other diseases have been on a regulatory list used to bar foreign visitors, workers, refugees and immigrants from entering the country. Infectious tuberculosis would be the only one to remain, because it can be spread more easily.
HIV has been the only listing that has provoked much controversy.
Congress put HIV on the list of contagious diseases in 1987. But Congress and the administration came under increasing pressure from AIDS activists, medical experts and international groups last year to remove it.
Last fall, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, which instructed the HHS secretary to develop a new list, based on scientific and medical considerations.
Immigrants would still have to show that they have sufficient financial resources or responsible sponsors so they would not become welfare-dependent, the officials said. Also a medical examination, with a chest X-ray, still would be required.
Opposition to the new policy already had been raised by some in Congress, including Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., who told President Bush in a letter earlier this week the proposal was "politically inspired."
The proposal was published without fanfare in Wednesday's Federal Register. The department announced it to the press on Friday.
Also removed from the current list - along with HIV, leprosy, infectious syphilis and gonorrhea - would be the venereal diseases granuloma inguinale, lymphogranuloma venereum and chancroid.