UK - Conservative Party promise immigrant health screening

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The UK's main opposition party the Conservative Party has promised it will introduce mandatory HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis testing for people entering the UK from outside the European Union if they win the General Election, United Press International reports.

Announcing the policy on February 11, Conservative leader Michael Howard said it would reduce public health threats and prevent Britain's National Health Service from becoming a "world health service." Visitors spending six months or more in Britain coming from areas with high TB risk would have to undergo chest x-rays and possibly follow-up tests. People entering for 12 months or more would need to be tested for HIV/AIDS, with permanent immigrants being checked for TB, hepatitis and HIV. Visas would only be automatically denied if TB was detected, and HIV cases would be assessed on an individual basis. Mr. Howard said the rules would not be applied to asylum seekers.

Mr. Howard, the son of immigrants himself, denied his party was pandering to racist sentiments ahead of a General election expected in May, and claimed the policy was similar to those in New Zealand, Canada and Australia. He said that TB testing was common sense since two thirds of those infected with the disease in Britain were born overseas.

However, Minister for Immigration Des Browne accused the opposition of copying measures announced in the Government's five-year immigration plan released last week. Mr. Browne said that this called for strategic TB checks in source-countries for immigration, and that people coming from areas with high TB risk were already screened - almost 200,000 TB tests had been administered at Gatwick and Heathrow airports in the last year, with 100 cases detected. The minister also claimed routine HIV/AIDS tests would not be productive. AIDS and TB charities have also criticized the Conservative policy, claiming it would be ineffective.

Both the Government and opposition have announced plans in the last month to reform immigration policy. Opinion polls suggest that over one quarter of the electorate now considers immigration to be the number one issue facing the country. Critics have accused both sides of the political divide of engaging in a bidding war to prove who is tougher on immigration.