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21 December 2011
AIDS experts call for end to criminalization of HIV non-disclosure
by George Atkinson

Criminal prosecutions for failing to disclose HIV status should be abolished, say HIV/AIDS experts in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. M-J Milloy, Thomas Kerr and Julio Montaner, of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, note that despite medical advances that have made HIV/AIDS a manageable illness, there has been an escalation in the number of people prosecuted for allegedly exposing sexual partners to the virus. But, say the authors, there is no evidence that criminal prosecutions for HIV-nondisclosure protect individuals from infection.

They argue that with current Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) treatments, the risk of transmission of HIV from appropriately treated people is exceedingly low. They also note that prosecutions can lead to stigmatization of people infected with HIV, curtailing reporting of the virus and disrupting prevention activities.

"Today, there is a strong scientific basis to eliminate routine prosecutions for HIV nondisclosure," they write. "Furthermore, these criminal prosecutions generate stigma and discrimination that interferes with best medical practices and, as such, has multiple unintended negative consequences. Prosecutions put the life of people living with HIV/AIDS at risk, increase the risk of HIV transmission and health care costs, and ultimately place the public at higher risk."

In any case, say the authors, current criminal codes have appropriate measures to deal with people with HIV who are aware of their status and act with intent to harm others. "It is time to embrace the scientific evidence, recognize the ability of HAART to virtually eliminate the transmission of HIV, and do away with criminal prosecutions for HIV nondisclosure," they conclude.

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Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal

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