WASHINGTON -- After two years of controversy, the secretary of health and human services, Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, has removed AIDS-virus infection from the list of sicknesses that can keep someone from entering the United States, federal officials said yesterday.
Dr. Sullivan's new list includes only infectious tuberculosis, the only common deadly disease that can be passed by casual contact. The list of diseases once included more than half a dozen disorders.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service is required to use the list to determine who will be excluded. Dr. Sullivan is required to consult with the immigration service and the State Department in establishing a new rule, but both agencies are expected to endorse the action soon, according to the officials, who requested anonymity.
The current policy had gone into effect after Congress approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., that required the health secretary to put the AIDS virus on the list of dangerous diseases.
Until the new policy goes into effect on June 1, people infected with the AIDS virus, known as the human immunodeficiency virus, will continue to be barred from entering the country unless they declare that they are infected and seek a waiver.
Those who receive a waiver are now required to carry a stamped paper in their passports saying they have sought the exception. Officials of the government and of protesting organizations said they did not have any estimate of how many people were barred at the border or had sought waivers over the two years in which various versions of the current policy have been in effect.
Dr. Sullivan's change had been urged by protesters, especially since a boycott was staged at the Sixth International Conference on AIDS last June in San Francisco. Several thousand representatives who might have been required to obtain waivers took part in the boycott.
Vocal opponents of moves to change the current policy have included Mr. Helms and Representative William E. Dannemeyer, R-Calif.
Dr. David Rogers, co-chairman of the National Commission on AIDS, which was established by the president and Congress to help establish a federal policy on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, said the secretary's decision "was a fine blow for science, and reverses what seemed a policy that was foolish and embarrassing to the United States."
Opponents say that the policy is unlikely to be very effective because AIDS is not passed through casual contact and because so many more people living in this country already carry the virus. They also argue that the policy is an unconscionable intrusion into the lives of people who carry the virus.
It was only at the close of the 1990 session of Congress that lawmakers declared their previous action void and gave back to Dr. Sullivan the power to redraw the list of diseases.
Other diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea and leprosy, were also on the previous list and were excluded from Dr. Sullivan's new list.