South MS AIDS Task Force applauds lifting of U.S. travel ban

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The South Mississippi AIDS Task Force says it has two reasons to celebrate. The group hosted an extremely successful fundraiser last night and the federal government has lifted a ban on people living with HIV/AIDS from entering the country. AIDS Task Force officials say lifting this decades old ban is an important step toward ending discrimination.

A tired staff spent Saturday morning packing up what was left of hundreds of pieces of artwork put up for auction Friday night. Organizers say the turnout for the Bid For Life fundraiser was amazing.

"The people came out," said Bid For Life Chairperson Leonie Johnston. "They showed up, and they bid. And they spent money."

The South MS AIDS Task Force will use part of the money to educate the public about how AIDS is spread. The staff says all the research done over the years made it difficult to understand why the United States continued to ban HIV and AIDS infected foreigners from entering the country.

Dr. Horrell Townsend is the incoming president of the South MS Aids Task Force.

"The ban has a long and kind of convoluted history to it," he said. "It started in 1987. There was a lot of fear and phobia about people with HIV and AIDS and of course, that ban was enacted as part of that fear. "

On Friday, President Barack Obama lifted that ban. It's a move the AIDS Task Force says is essential to ending discrimination.

"This removed the stigma against HIV and Aids," said Rick Liwanag, HIV educator. "It's a positive step towards what we're doing in trying to make sure everybody is aware that prevention is the key."

If the United States is to take the lead in finding a cure for the disease, AIDS Task Force officials say the country cannot stick to outdated ways of thinking.

"We're only one of 12 that still enacts travel bans for HIV," said Dr. Townsend. "It's time we took a leadership role, and it's time we walked the walk instead of just talking the talk."

The South Mississippi Aids Task Force offers free AIDS- HIV testing. Please call 1-877-385-1214 to set up an appointment.

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