The US is set to lift a controversial ban on HIV-positive visitors from abroad.

President Barack Obama signed a bill reauthorising funding for a federal programme providing HIV-related health care.

He said: '22 years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS.

'Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease - yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat.

'If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. And that's why on Monday, my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year.'

Mr Obama's predecessor George W Bush signed legislation last year that removed HIV from a list of diseases 'of public health significance' that effectively barred any person infected with HIV from entering the US.

But the law was not implemented by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates US immigration authorities in some instances.

Human rights and HIV/AIDS activism groups hailed the end of the ban.

They said it would put the US back in a leadership role in the fight against the illness and would help to lift the stigma associated with AIDS.

'We applaud President Obama for working to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS by announcing this important policy change,' Rebecca Haag, director of the AIDS Action Council, said.

The Ryan White Bill, which was first passed 19 years ago, is named after a 13-year-old boy who contracted HIV during a blood transfusion in 1984 - a time when the virus was first becoming known and was hugely misunderstood.

His family was forced to move from the town in Indiana where they lived after some parents protested when he continued to turn up for school, with some pulling their own children out of the school.