Travel ban affects international medical meetings


President Trump’s executive order blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States has landed a damaging blow to global cooperation in scientific research and could impede assemblies of the world’s top medical experts.

Commercial airliner Torsakarin/Thinkstock
Organizers for the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), which begins Feb. 13, issued a joint statement with the International Antiviral Society–USA (IAS-USA) opposing the travel restrictions and offering assistance to CROI attendees who could be affected by the ban. About 4,000 registrants generally attend CROI each year, with about 45% from outside of North America.

“We are offering assistance as needed, and as each unique situation requires,” IAS-USA executive director and president Donna M. Jacobsen said in an interview. “Apart from that, we are establishing a list of individuals who may have contacts at the U.S. embassies, and will seek assistance from them as needed. Also, we are providing a letter documenting the individual as having been vetted as a legitimate scientist or researcher in the field, and having been approved to attend CROI.”

Donna Jacobsen

Donna Jacobsen

Ms. Jacobsen said no registered attendees have listed their residency in any of the seven countries affected, but she noted that attendee data are restricted to current residency and not citizenship or birth origin. At this time, Ms. Jacobsen was not aware of any CROI attendees whose travel visas have been denied as a result of the travel ban, but affected attendees are urged to contact CROI leadership directly.

“We are monitoring the situation closely, however, and will offer whatever assistance we can to conference attendees, regardless of their point of origin, to ensure the free exchange of scientific information,” she said.

The travel ban could have detrimental effects on future collaboration between U.S. and international scientists and ultimately endanger the health and well-being of patients, Ms. Jacobsen said.

“Beyond the immediate possible impact on individuals intending to attend CROI who might be directly affected by the ban, there is serious reason for concern that the policy will dissuade other scientists and researchers from traveling to the U.S. in the future overall and sharing their work with colleagues here,” she said in an interview. “Such a response to the U.S. action would needlessly damage our global leadership in science and medicine.”

Thousands of academics from around the world, including physicians, researchers, and professors, have already vowed to boycott U.S.-based conferences until the travel ban is lifted. A Google Docs petition started shortly after the ban was announced has garnered more than 5,000 signatures by professionals acting in solidarity with those affected by the travel restrictions. It’s unclear who started the petition.

The academicians who signed the petition say they will not attend international conferences in the United States until those restricted from participating can rejoin their colleagues and freely share their ideas, said Charles R. Rogers, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Charles Rogers, PhD

Dr. Charles Rogers

“Their scholarly insight matters just as much as ours,” Dr. Rogers said in an interview. “Until our international colleagues are offered an unambiguous, heartfelt welcome supported by fair and unprejudiced immigration policies, what we [academicians] all stand for in the world will be diminished.”

President Trump’s executive order, signed Jan. 27, bars refugees from entering the country for 120 days and bans immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations out for 3 months. The countries include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

In a Feb. 1 press conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s intent is to ensure national security and prevent terrorists from entering the country.

“The president has been very clear that his No. 1 goal is not to target any one religion but places and areas where we believe that there is an issue,” Mr. Spicer said. “The president’s No. 1 goal has always been to focus on the safety of America, not the religion. He understands that it’s not a religious problem, it’s a radicalization problem. There’s a big difference between Islam, the religion, and radical Islamic terrorists that come here to seek to do us harm.”

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