Increasing Number of Countries Criminalizing HIV Transmission
Some health officials are concerned that a growing trend to criminalize the transmission of HIV will undercut gains made in the fight against the virus worldwide, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. According to a recently released report from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, 33 countries are considering legislation that would prosecute people who transmit the virus, and 58 countries already have similar laws or use existing laws to prosecute HIV transmission. Paul de Lay of UNAIDS said he is concerned that such laws, if "applied badly," could lead to policies that force people to undergo HIV testing or cause people to hide their HIV status. He added that this could move the epidemic underground, allow the virus to spread undetected and "set us back and do incredible damage."
According to the AP/Yahoo! News, seven West African countries have passed such laws since 2005. The West African laws vary in extremity -- just exposing a person to HIV, regardless of if the virus is transmitted, is a crime in Benin, and Tanzanian law carries a possible sentence of life in prison for intentional transmission -- according to the AP/Yahoo! News.
Although some critics argue that laws criminalizing the spread of HIV are necessary for individuals who are "maliciously" spreading the virus, the AP/Yahoo! News reports that many experts argue those are extreme cases. Osborne said, "The criminal law is a blunt instrument. If you put everyone in prison with HIV, then you think you've controlled it. But you haven't dealt with the issues around the intimate behaviors that spread HIV."
According to the AP/Yahoo! News, 32 states in the U.S. have laws that make HIV transmission a crime, and experts approximate that thousands of people throughout the country have been charged with spreading the virus. In addition, 16 people in the United Kingdom since 2001 have been prosecuted for HIV transmission, and a Canadian woman in 2005 was charged with criminal negligence and aggravated assault for transmitting HIV to her infant while pregnant. Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said criminalizing HIV transmission in wealthy nations like Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S. "sets a poor example," allowing other countries to "think this is an appropriate or desirable way to deal with HIV" (Cheng, AP/Yahoo! News, 11/13).
The IPPF report is available online (.pdf).