Intended for healthcare professionals


The uncomfortable truths about visa discrimination and global health conferences

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 23 January 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p78
  1. Abdullahi Tsanni, science journalist
  1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  1. tsanni22{at}

In 2022 there were several high profile cases of health professionals from Africa being barred from entering countries for global health conferences they had been invited to. Abdullahi Tsanni reports

For more than eight weeks, Lindiwe (not her real name) received no response to her application for a travel visa to Canada. A reproductive health advocate for women and girls in Africa, she was one of 883 health professionals from low or middle income countries who had received a scholarship to attend the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal in July 2022.

When she finally received a response, just two days before her travel date, her visa was refused by the Canadian government. Although Lindiwe’s scholarship covered all expenses for her stay, including accommodation and daily stipends, they determined she didn’t have sufficient personal funds.

To Lindiwe, it means that Canadian officials didn’t look at her documents, “they just saw an African passport and denied it.”

She says that had they properly reviewed her application they would never have mentioned insufficient funds as a reason for refusal. It was a huge opportunity to attend the largest HIV/AIDS conference in the world, one she had been preparing for for months. “I couldn’t make it and our booth for the exhibition was empty. It was all wasted,” she says.

Lindiwe’s experience mirrors the barriers faced by many health practitioners from low and middle income countries—often the sites of the highest burdens of global health conditions, and …

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