A call to end visa discrimination

February 8, 2023 — Last year, there were several high-profile instances of health professionals from Africa being denied visas to enter countries that were hosting global health conferences they’d been invited to. In response, there have been increasing calls to hold the conferences in low- and middle-income nations instead of in high-income ones.

Global health experts—including Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Jesse Bump—spoke out against the visa discrimination in a January 23 article in the BMJ. Bump, lecturer on global health policy and executive director of the Takemi Program in International Health, and others quoted in the article noted the irony of clinicians, policymakers, and other health leaders from Africa being prevented from attending conferences that are focused on health conditions that disproportionately affect their countries.

The visa discrimination is racist and limits the value of conferences for all participants, critics said. They said that steps towards equity could include providing more visa support letters and shifting the locations of conferences to visa-friendly countries.

Public actions to protest visa discrimination have included petitions and boycotts. Bump, for example, withdrew his attendance from a conference last fall after learning that several colleagues from low- and middle-income countries couldn’t participate after having their visas denied. He also co-sponsored a petition against the conference organizers.

“I wanted to make a statement,” he said. “To my colleagues throughout sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world where people are similarly excluded, I wanted to say, ‘I see you; I’m aware of your value and centrality in discussions on matters that affect your region.’”

Read the BMJ article: The uncomfortable truths about visa discrimination and global health conferences