Positive Life NSW Blog

HIV transmission, the law and public health

Posted by on in Advocacy and Policy

From time to time, I come across the misguided view that prosecuting and 'locking up' people who transmit HIV is an effective prevention strategy and behavioural deterrent.

Some people even believe that people with HIV shouldn't have sex, well with others anyway. This unrealistic and frankly archaic position fails to acknowledge that HIV no longer kills those who are treated, and that people with HIV have a right to sex like everyone else. It also fails to acknowledge that HIV doesn't discriminate and that people have sex, including people with HIV, whether others like it or not!

It seems to have somehow escaped these individuals that HIV infection in 2014 is a vastly different disease than it was prior to the introduction of combination antiretrovirals in 1996. HIV is now considered a chronic manageable condition and HIV treatment effectively controls the virus enabling people with HIV to not only live long healthy and productive lives, but to also significantly reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Yet, despite this seismic change, they cling to the bewildering belief that criminal sanctions are effective and necessary. Well they aren't, and let me explain why.

The criminalisation of HIV transmission increases fear of being known as HIV-positive. Fear of being discriminated against because you have HIV or HIV stigma as it is known, acts as a powerful disincentive and discourages people who may have been infected from getting tested. If people are not tested and diagnosed, they will not have the opportunity to receive treatment. Not only will this lead to a worsening of their HIV infection with serious health consequences - maybe even AIDS or death, but it will also lead to them having significantly higher levels of HIV in their blood and passing it on to others. HIV stigma also acts as an effective deterrent to people with HIV from disclosing their status. The fear of sexual and/or emotional rejection, as well as the possibility of potential prosecution for transmitting HIV, acts as a barrier to disclosure. The simple fact is that criminalisation forces HIV underground and jeopardises both the health of those infected and of the community in general.

HIV prevention is a mutual responsibility. Let me say that again, HIV prevention is a mutual responsibility!

We all need to take reasonable precautions to avoid contracting or transmitting HIV or an STI, or any other communicable disease for that matter. Criminalisation just does not work as a public health strategy. In fact it achieves the very opposite effect, by undermining public health initiatives and increasing fear of HIV amongst individuals and within the community. So the next time you hear one of these misguided individuals wittering on about the need for people with HIV to be locked up for transmitting HIV, remind them that criminal sanctions effectively work to undermine disclosure, HIV prevention and the health of the community. We are all diminished by the pointlessness of HIV criminalisation. Speak up against it.

Also at http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/viewpoint/positive-living-12923.html

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