The 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) will take place in Melbourne, Australia, this year. The conference is for those working within the HIV field as well as policy makers and persons living with HIV. According to the FAQ section of the official website for the conference, each year approximately 20,000 - 25,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries participate.
Emirates Airline has been selected as the official airline for AIDS 2014. Conference delegates are encouraged to take advantage of the 10% discount Emirates is offering on business or economy class roundtrip tickets. The announcement on the website states that the airline has excellent connections to all of the six continents via Dubai.
However, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has very strict travel regulations regarding those living with HIV. People with HIV are not allowed to enter or stay in the UAE. Health exams, which include an HIV test, are required of anyone applying for a residency permit. Also, employers may perform blood tests at any time, and if anyone is found to be HIV positive, it may lead to immediate deportation.
The official AIDS 2014 website states, "The conference strongly encourages people living with HIV to only transit through the gulf as restrictions are in place for longer term visits." Short-term stays are possible as no health certificates are required upon entry, but it should be noted that antiretroviral medication for personal use can't be transported into the country. The official UAE embassy website does not offer any information on HIV regulation within the UAE. After a direct call to the embassy's medical department, we were informed that anyone bringing HIV medication into the UAE for the short term would need prior permission from the minister. No information on how to obtain said permission was given and we were directed back to the website.
"Not only is transiting through Dubai dangerous and illegal for people living with HIV, it is also decidedly unsafe for LGBT people, particularly transgender individuals," said Jim Pickett, secretariat for AIDS 2014. "I have to question the judgment of the IAS for choosing this discriminatory, deeply problematic airline and encouraging delegates to use it. What were they thinking?"
Ironically, AIDS 2014 will have many sessions that will address some of the topics this controversial choice broaches. These sessions include: "Managing Change in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)", "Global Injustices: The Control, Containment and Punishment of People Living With HIV" and "Criminalization of Key Populations: How to Respond to HIV?"
Though AIDS 2014 will cover topics relating to HIV and countries that still have regulations and criminalization against those living with HIV/AIDS, it still opted to select an airline that is based in a country with said enforced rules.
Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia both offer similar service routes to Australia to those offered by Emirates. Additional restrictions do apply and can be found on the AIDS 2014 website. No official comment from either Emirates or AIDS 2014 representatives were provided when offered an opportunity to respond to the controversy.