World Aids Day
Students form a giant red ribbon during a publicity campaign to promote awareness about HIV/AIDS in Taipei Reuters

Marco was headed to a business meeting in Bangladesh via Qatar when border guards in the latter nation escorted him to a room and informed him they’d identified HIV medication in his luggage. After being detained for several hours, he was deported from Qatar and missed the first day of his business meeting. In order to explain his absence, he then had to disclose his HIV status to his colleagues.

Marco's story is at the heart of a new video from GBC Health, a coalition of more than 230 companies working to improve the health of their workforces and communities around the world.

Ahead of World AIDS Day 2012, more than 40 top business leaders have called for the repeal of travel bans that restrict the freedom of movement of people like Marco who are living with HIV.

The initiative is jointly sponsored by the United Nations agency dealing with the global HIV/AIDS response and CEOs from notable global brands like Johnson & Johnson, The Coca-Cola Company, Merck, Pfizer, Heineken and the National Basketball Association.

Some 45 countries will deport, detain or deny entry to people solely because they are living with HIV. Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, said restrictions on entry, stay and residence for people living with HIV are nothing but “discriminatory and a violation of human rights.”

“Every individual should have equal access to freedom of movement,” he stated in the UN’s call to action. “I urge all countries to remove all such restrictions based on HIV status.”

Sidibé has frequently argued that there is no evidence to suggest these regulations protect public health. Indeed most of the current HIV-related travel restrictions are remnants of policies enacted in the 1980s, when less was known about the virus and treatment was nonexistent. Since then, scientists have developed ways to effectively prevent, manage and treat HIV.

Nevertheless, numerous countries still ban people with HIV from entering or deport foreigners once their status is discovered. Many nations also deny work visas that prohibit short-term stays for business travelers or those who wish to attend conferences. Similarly, those who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive are denied entry into universities to study abroad.

The United States only lifted its 22-year HIV travel ban in 2010. Other countries like Armenia, China, Fiji, Moldova, Namibia, South Korea and Ukraine have also removed such restrictions in recent years. However, many more countries still hold maintain bans as law, several of which are major hubs for international business like Australia, Russia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

“Travel restrictions on individuals with HIV are unnecessary and hinder the ability for individuals and companies to operate in a truly global workforce,” Mark Bertolini, Chairman, CEO & President of Aetna, said in the call to action. Chip Bergh, President & CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., called the bans “discriminatory and bad for business.”

GBC Health Managing Director Michael Schreiber echoed that sentiment, calling the elimination of HIV travel restrictions a “win-win.”

“It’s the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, and the right thing to do from a business perspective,” he said.

The CEO-led campaign launched in July at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. The business leaders’ latest push came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a blueprint outlining the goals and objectives of the United States’ plan for an AIDS-Free Generation.

The United Nations believes 34 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS. Another 1.7 million died from the disease last year, according the latest statistics.

The inaugural World AIDS Day took place on Dec. 1, 1988, and was the first ever global health day. The day’s driving theme through 2015 is “Getting to Zero,” and along the way, many hope to break down barriers that they believe are not only outdated but also discriminatory.