|'Pandering to prejudice': Tory leader Michael Howard
A leading HIV campaign has told Tory leader Michael Howard should be “ashamed” of his health policies.
Rhon Reynolds, deputy chief executive of the African HIV Policy Network, said plans for immigrant health checks risked stigmatising African communities.
The association between migrants, asylum seekers and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis condemned as racist electioneering.
Reynolds told Blink: “It's clearly racist. It's all about the election and trying to get votes on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society.
“We say 'shame on you, Mr Howard'. Reynolds was joined by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow who said Howard's plan was based on prejudice rather than evidence.
Reynolds added: “Because they're specifically targeting African communities it sends the message that these people carry diseases.
“They are not asking people from other European countries to be tested, yet we know there is a burgeoning HIV epidemic going on in some southern European countries.
“We need to ensure people have a safe environment to be tested and not feel they'll be penalised or frightened, otherwise it will push people underground.”
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has come out against mandatory screening for refugees, and MP's on the health select committee concluded such a policy would be ineffective. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have also criticised screening.
|Because they're specifically targeting African communities it sends the message that these people carry diseases
The Conservatives say immigrants should be tested for illnesses such as tuberculosis and the HIV virus.
Those staying for over six months would be required to show they would not be a danger to public health, a drain on NHS resources, and that they were fit to carry out their intended UK employment.
But Burstow said: “The key thing here is, is this based on any evidence?' Talking to public health professionals, they are quite doubtful as to whether this will really contribute seriously to the public health problems we now have with TB in this country.
“The reality is that someone can come into this country with TB and it incubates within them and as a result you wouldn't necessarily pick this up with the tests that the Conservative government are proposing. This is more about pandering to prejudice rather than actually basing a policy on firm evidence.”
The Labour Party has broadly backed Conservative proposals, saying they largely reiterate statements in the Government's five-year-plan on immigration and asylum released the week before.
A spokesman for the British Lung Foundation has stated that TB is a growing threat within the UK population and is not always introduced by immigrants.
Dr John Moore-Gillon said that the disease was increasing in infection numbers. Recent figures show a 25% increase in TB infections over the last 10 years.
He said: 'London, like many other big cosmopolitan cities is acting as a mirror to what goes on in the rest of the world. TB is not simply imported – we see a rise in many areas of the UK-born population as well.”
His comments come as the Conservatives unveil plans to test new immigrants to the UK for TB. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said that the Tories were overstating the impact of TB as it related to immigration.
“To start whipping up a degree of alarm over something that doesn't repress anything like the scale of problem he sees to be implying I think is very irresponsible,” he said.