Australia: Queensland people living with HIV organisation, QPP, issues position statement on HIV criminalisation (press release)

Queensland Positive People (QPP) is a peer-based advocacy organisation which is committed to actively promoting self-determination and empowerment for all people living with HIV (PLHIV) throughout Queensland.

Below is their press release issued on 6 April 2016 in the light of the recent High Court ruling related to intent in HIV transmission cases.

Position Statement

The criminal law is an ineffective and inappropriate tool to address HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission. International best practice acknowledges that public health frameworks are best placed to encourage a shared responsibility for HIV transmission, and public health interventions seek to effect change in risk-taking behaviour among those who have difficulty taking appropriate precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Urgent legal review of State and National guidelines for determining if an individual poses a reckless risk of HIV transmission is required following the scientific acceptance that PLHIV on treatment with an undetectable viral load pose a negligible risk of transmitting HIV via sexual intercourse. Despite scientific consensus on this issue, Australian criminal law has failed to acknowledge the contemporary science of HIV transmission and instead relies on incorrect, out of date and stigmatising perspectives of HIV that do not acknowledge that with proper adherence to HIV medication, it is a manageable chronic illness with a full life expectancy.

To explain why Australian criminal law lags behind United Nation recommendations and criminalises HIV transmission, Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) states “stigma, fear and discriminatory perceptions of HIV influence the decision to proceed with criminal charges– a statement clearly evidenced by a lack of criminal prosecution or media attention regarding the transmission of other notifiable conditions such as syphilis or hepatitis.” HIV is treatable, but criminal charges perpetuate the inaccurate position that HIV is still a death sentence and therefore deserving of a severe punishment.

Current Status

A decision has been handed down in the High Court regarding a Queensland criminal HIV transmission case.

Whilst inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the case, the NAPWHA and Queensland Positive People (QPP) highlight that the trying of HIV transmission through the courts is a complex and fraught issue.

The overly broad use of the criminal law has far reaching negative impacts upon the HIV response. In line with UNAIDS guidance, NAPWHA and QPP urge that any application of the criminal law in the context of HIV must not undermine public health objectives.

Cipri Martinez states that “The use of the criminal law in responding to HIV transmission has been widely regarded as a blunt and ineffective tool with adverse implications for public health. In line with the recommendations of the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the criminal law should only be reserved for cases where an individual exhibits clear malicious intent to transmit HIV with the purpose of causing harm.”

“There are alternatives to the criminal justice system to address HIV transmission or allegations that a person living with HIV is placing other people at risk of HIV, such as public health legislation” Martinez said.

Public health interventions are intended to prioritise education; support behaviour change; provide management as required; and actively utilise affected communities as a far more effective alternative to punitive and stigmatising legal sanctions.

NAPWHA and QPP support HIV prevention strategies being driven by an evidence-based, best practice model of public health interventions.

Criminalising HIV transmission sends unbalanced messages about the shared responsibility for prevention, creates disincentives for people to get tested and does, in fact, discourage disclosure of HIV status. These outcomes undermine prevention efforts and actually increase the risk of further HIV transmission.

Criminalising transmission does not acknowledge the complex factors that may impact an individual’s ability to disclose status or take the necessary precautions to prevent HIV transmission.

QPP President, Mark Counter agrees with NAPWHA’s position, saying “Public health interventions acknowledge the complex factors unique to each case, such as power imbalances, impairment, discrimination or other social determinants of health that may confuse or limit an individual’s ability to prevent transmission.”

National and State HIV strategies have identified the shared goals of achieving virtual elimination of HIV transmission in Australia by 2020.

“We are all working towards the shared goal of reducing HIV transmissions. The only way we are going to achieve this goal is by continuing to implement evidence-based human rights responses to HIV. These responses include educating the public about HIV and empowering people to avoid transmission or live successfully with HIV. The broad use of the criminal law does not help us achieve these goals” Counter says.

We need to be expanding programs which have been proven to reduce HIV transmission whilst protecting the human rights of people living with HIV and those who are HIV negative. Further, we need to encourage and empower people living with an unknown status to get tested and to ensure HIV prevention services are available to all that need them.

One of the unfortunate side effects of criminal prosecutions is the misinformed and stigmatising media that can accompany the reporting of these cases.

“We call on media outlets to appropriately report on HIV transmission cases with facts and not fear. Inaccurate statements not only undermine our efforts to educate the public about HIV, but also create an environment of fear for people living with HIV or people thinking about testing. It is vital that we encourage people to test – not discourage or frighten them from testing” Counter said.

For assistance in reporting appropriately on HIV, journalists should refer to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations HIV Media Guide.

Stop the Prague Public Health Authority’s persecution and intimidation of people living with HIV [Press release]

Pan-European Networks of communities of people living with and affected by HIV, doctors and scientists call upon the Government of the Czech Republic to immediately stop the Prague Public Health Authority’s persecution and intimidation of people living with HIV, and to return to evidence-based and proven practices in HIV prevention, testing and care in the Czech Republic.

Brussels, 19 February 2016 –  The signatories of this open letter, representing communities of people living with, and affected by HIV, doctors and scientists addressing HIV and co-infections in Europe, are extremely concerned that the Prague Public Health Authority has initiated a police investigation into the sex lives of 30 men living with HIV on the sole grounds that these men have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

We understand that the Czech police are currently conducting investigations and are considering pressing charges against these men claiming that they have violated the provisions of Sections 152 and 153 of the Czech Criminal Code.

There is no evidence that punitive approaches to regulating the consensual sexual behaviour of people with living HIV are an effective HIV prevention or public health tool, but there is evidence that such approaches can be counterproductive by further stigmatising people with HIV, sending those in need of testing and treatment underground, harming individual and public health.

In addition, the release of medical information to the police appears to be a grave violation of personal freedoms of individuals living in the Czech Republic. The initiation of criminal prosecution against people living with HIV for alleged intentional gross bodily harm – despite the lack of a single complainant – raises grave concerns regarding the inappropriate application of criminal law to people living with HIV.

We also understand that a number of non-governmental organizations have recently spoken out against the acts of the Prague Public Health Authority and subsequent police investigation and they will approach the Czech liaison at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Please also note that the responsible UNAIDS representative has already been informed and will receive further briefing from us.

With this letter we express our outrage at these human rights violations, and support the groups within the Czech Republic who initially raised objections and are working to support both people with HIV and the public health of all those living in the country.

Our main objections to the recent development are based on several arguments:

  • It violates the fundamental human right to personal integrity and privacy (Art 7 Sec. 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms), and breaches the Czech Republic’s international obligations under the existing National HIV/AIDS Strategy;
  • It is counterproductive to public health, ignoring well established WHO and UNAIDS recommendations on appropriate use of public health and criminal law as it relates to HIV. Evidence shows that criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure or non-intentional transmission deter people from getting tested and force them to hide their HIV status and/or sexual orientation, thus reducing opportunities for treatment which greatly reduces infectiousness.
  • There is a substantial body of evidence to show that the overly broad HIV criminalisation, in any form, is harmful for both individuals and society as it leads to increased latency of the epidemic, deters people from getting tested and treated, and thus ultimately contributes to a growing epidemic. We recognize that there has been a constant and alarming increase in the rate of new HIV infections in Europe in the last ten years. However, the active discrimination and violation of the human rights of any group of society will not contribute to the curbing of the epidemic.
  • The proposed prosecution of people living with HIV for alleged intentional spread of infectious diseases, or in fact the transfer of any health-related data of individual from the health care system to law enforcement organisations is potentially a violation of the European Union’s Data Protection Directive.

We demand that the Government of the Czech Republic adheres to the international principles and treaties, and scientific evidence universally accepted in the practice of HIV prevention, and we also demand that the current level of HIV care in the country is maintained and improved to assure at-risk groups feel that getting tested for HIV is and should be a reasonable decision for them. Nothing is as effective in linking to and retention in care than disseminating the right information, and fighting stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, or any other groups such as men having sex with men. The active discrimination and legal persecution of people with HIV is in diametrical opposition to this evidence.

The signatories will continue to support local non-governmental organisations and other actors in their efforts to prevent HIV criminalization becoming a public health policy. We call on the Government of Czech Republic to ensure that the Prague Public Health Authority reverses this policy and ends police investigations of people with HIV simply for being diagnosed with an STI and instead relies on good public health practice as the most effective strategy to deal with HIV/AIDS.

Speaking on behalf of millions of people living with and affected by HIV across Europe, as well as experts in HIV science, public health and human rights, the signatories are ready to provide advice, guidance and the collection of good practices relating to HIV prevention to the government.

Contact:

HIV Justice Network:  Edwin J Bernard, edwin@hivjustice.net

European AIDS Treatment Group: Tamás Bereczky on tamas.bereczky@eatg.org

Download and share the letter (with references). Also available on the EATG website

Open Letter to Prague Public Health Authority

Footnote: At the request of Czech AIDS Society a number of organisations representing European networks of communities of people living with and affected by HIV, doctors and scientists wrote today to head of Prague’s Public Health Authority to raise our concern about the initiation of a police investigation into the sex lives of 30 men living with HIV on the sole grounds that these men have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

We hereby would like to stress that disseminating the right information, and fighting stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, or any other groups such as men having sex with men has proved have proved to be effective in responding to the epidemic, to link to and retain persons in care. The active discrimination and legal persecution of people with HIV is in diametrical opposition to this evidence.

Letter to Dr. Zdeňka Jágrová, Hygienicka, Head of the Prague Public Health Authority

Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) and HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) Position on the Criminalization of HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Other Communicable Diseases (2015)

This statement was issued by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) on the urgent need to repeal or modernize HIV-specific criminalization statutes and laws criminalizing transmission or exposure to sexually transmitted infections and other communicable diseases.

[Feature] Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation

Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation

A pre-conference meeting for AIDS 2014

In July 2014, at a meeting held to just prior to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia around 150 participants from all regions of the world came together to discuss the overly broad use of the criminal law to control and punish people living with HIV – otherwise known as ‘HIV criminalisation’.

The meeting was hosted by Living Positive Victoria, Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre, National Association of People Living with HIV Australia and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, with the support of AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Global Network of People Living with HIV, HIV Justice Network, International Community of Women Living with HIV, Sero Project and UNAIDS.

The meeting was financially supported by the Victorian Department of Health and UNAIDS.

This highlights video (12 mins, 50 secs) was directed, filmed and edited by Nicholas Feustel, with interviews and narration by Edwin J Bernard.  The video was produced by georgetown media for the HIV Justice Network.

Download the highlights video from:http://vimeo.com/hivjustice/beyondblame

Below is a feature story based on the transcript of the highlights video, with additional links and information. You can also read Felicita Hikuam’s excellent (and remarkably quickly-written) summary of the day in ‘Mujeres Adelante’ and Daniel Reeders’s impressive collection of tweets from the meeting.

FEATURE STORY

A day to come together, find solutions, and move forward

Paul Kidd: On behalf of Living Positive Victoria, the Victorian AIDS Council, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, and the National Association of People with HIV Australia, welcome to Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation. We hope today’s event is inspiring and productive and that it kicks off the discussion about HIV criminalisation that will continue through the week and beyond.

Edwin Bernard: I think this is the largest HIV Criminalisation Pre-Conference to date at an International AIDS Conference. So the idea of the meeting is to bring people together. People who are working on this issue, who are interested in learning more about it, and we’re going to really work hard to come together, find solutions, and move forward.

Julian Hows: GNP+ has been involved in this issue of criminalisation since 2002, 2003, when we noticed an increase in the rates of prosecution in Europe effectively and started the first scan of the 53 signatory countries of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This has since become the Global Criminalisation Scan, an international ‘clearing-house’ of resources, research, and initiatives on punitive laws and policies impacting people living with HIV.

Jessica Whitbread: And ICW are really, really excited to be here and part of this. Criminalisation is a huge issue for us. Over 50% of people living with HIV are women and many of these laws initially and still continue to be created as a way to protect women when actually they put us more at risk.

Getting the criminal law changed and out of the HIV response

The meeting began with a surprise announcement by the Minister of Health for Victoria, David Davis, about Australia’s only HIV-specific criminal law, Section 19A of the Victorian Crimes Act. Read more about the campaign to reform the law here.

David Davis: And as a further step in our efforts to reduce the impact of HIV and reduce stigma and discrimination, the coalition government will amend section 19A of the Crimes Act 1958 to ensure that it is non-discriminatory.

Following the announcement Victoria’s Shadow Health Minister, Gavin Jennings, committed to removing (and not just amending) Section 19A within the next 12 months, should Labor win the state election in November.

A keynote address by the Honourable Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, and a member of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, reminded us why an overly broad criminal justice apporach to prevention does more harm than good.

Michael Kirby: In the big picture of this great world epidemic, the criminal law has a trivial role to play. What is most important is getting the law changed and out, not getting the law into the struggle against HIV and AIDS.

The Iowa example: laws are subject to change and should be subject to change

The meeting then focused on Iowa in the United States where both law reform and judicial rulings have limited the overly broad use of the criminal law.

Matt McCoy: You know, in Iowa, we had a very bad law on the books, but it’s not unlike a lot of other places in the country in the United States and in the world. So there was no need for transmission, and with it, the penalty was so extreme, a mandatory lifetime sex offender registry and 25 years in prison.

Watch the video that Senator McCoy showed at the meeting explaning how law reform in Iowa happened.

Sean Strub: Iowa is a conservative farm-belt state. And the effort there began with a small group of people with HIV who started organising others with HIV and educating their own communities and then educating public health officials and reframing the issue in terms of a public health issue rather than simply an issue of justice for people with HIV. Last month, we held a conference at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. It was the first national conference on HIV criminalisation in the US. The Friday before our conference began, Governor Branstad in Iowa signed a criminalisation reform measure and made Iowa the first state in the United States to subtantively reform and modernise their statute.

Two videos of the HIV Is Not A Crime conference (also known as the Grinnell Gathering) are available.  One shows the opening ceremony and can be viewed on the Sero website.  A second video highlights the voices of US HIV criminalisation survivors featured at the meeting, and can be viewed on the Sero website.

Nick Rhoades: About a week after the conference was over, the timing was just a little bit off, nonetheless, it’s fantastic. My conviction was overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court. Yeah. Thank you… It’s kinda groundbreaking, their decision, and I, first of all, think that it’s going to have an effect beyond Iowa’s borders, but it basically said that there has to be more than a theoretical chance of transmission to be prosecuted under the law. And previously, that’s not been the case. Basically, it was just if you didn’t disclose, and you had sex, that that would be enough to convict someone. So, for the first time, they basically said that factors such as using protection, being on antiretroviral medication, having an undetectable viral load specifically, should affect whether or not prosecution is able to happen.

Senator McCoy took the opportunity to urge parliamentarians to rethink how they treat HIV in a criminal context.

Matt McCoy: Many of these laws went into effect in the United States during the AIDS crisis and the scares that society had around the issue, and in many cases they were put into effect using a one-size-fits-all measure. And so this is a great opportunity to go back and to revisit that and to realise that our laws are subject to change and should be subject to change.

Science can change laws and limit prosecutions

A number of countries in Europe have also recently revisited their criminal laws, policies or practices. A poster, Developments in criminal law following increased knowledge and awareness of the additional prevention benefit of antiretroviral therapy, presented at AIDS 2014 by the HIV Justice Network, showed where and how this has taken place.

Edwin Bernard: We have to salute the Netherlands, the very first place in the world that actually, way before the Swiss statement, between 2004 and 2007, managed to change the application of the law through a variety of Supreme Court rulings, but also because of advocacy that happened with advocates and healthcare workers and people in the community who limited the role of the criminal law to only intentional exposure or transmission. Denmark was the only country in Western Europe that had an HIV-specific criminal law, and a huge amount of advocacy went on behind the scenes and that law was suspended in 2011 based on the fact that the law was about a serious, life-threatening illness, and the reality was that in Denmark, people living with HIV have exactly the same life expectancy as people without HIV. And so the law just couldn’t apply anymore. And so, we hope that the places like Denmark and the Netherlands will provide inspiration for the rest of us.

Urgent need to focus on global South

But with two-thirds of all HIV-specific criminal laws enacted in the global South, there is now an urgent need to re-focus our efforts.

Patrick Eba: For a long time, we have been saying that there is no prosecution happening in the Global South, particularly in Africa, because we were lacking the information to be able to point to those instances of criminalisation. In fact, there is a lot of prosecution that is happening, and in the past year, if you look at the data that is being maintained by the HIV Justice Network, it is clear. We’ve seen the case in Uganda. We know of a decision that came out some time late last year in South Africa. We know of a number of cases in Kenya, in Gabon, in Cameroon [and especially in Zimbabwe]; and these really show that where we celebrate and are able today to know what is happening in the Global North, our lack of understanding of the situation in the Global South is one that requires more attention.

Dora Musinguzi: Uganda is right now grappling with lots of human rights and legal issues, and it’s going to be such a high climb to really convince our governments, our people, government agencies to make sure that we really have this reform of looking at HIV from a human rights angle, public [health] angle, gender justice angle, if we are going to achieve the gains that we have known to achieve as a country. …But we stand strong in this, we are not giving up. We are looking to a future where we shall challenge this criminalisation, and we hope to come back with a positive story.

Workshops on advocacy messages, science and alternatives to a punitive criminal justice approach

After the morning plenary sessions, participants then attended one of three workshops. The first workshop explored how to get advocacy messages right, in terms of what arguments need to be delivered by whom and to whom.

Laurel Sprague: We talked about the importance of stories. In particular, the stories of people who have been prosecuted, both because of the dignity it gives them to be able to share their own experience, and also because what we’re seeing is so broadly understood to be disproportionate once the details come out.

Laurel’s rapporteur notes can be downloaded in full here.  For an example of advocacy messagaging aimed at communities impacted by HIV see this video from Queensland Positive People.

A second workshop highlighted the way that up-to-date science on HIV-related risks has limited the application of the criminal law in Sweden and Canada.

David Mejia-Canales: Really mobilising their scientists, their researchers and really connecting with the lawyers, the judiciary, the prosecutors and putting to them the best evidence that they have.

Download the Powerpoint presentation given by Cecile Kazatchine of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network here.

The third workshop examined alternatives to a punitive criminal justice system approach, and the risks and benefits of using, for example, public health law or restorative justice.

Daniel Reeders: So if someone shows up at a police station or talks to their doctor about being exposed or infected with HIV, a restorative justice approach would talk about giving them an opportunity to work that issue through with the person who they are otherwise trying to report, either for criminal prosecution or public health management. It acknowledges that people experience HIV infection as an injury and that there is a lack of a process offering them an opportunity to heal.

Daniel’s entire rapporteur report can be read on his blog.

Going home with more ideas and tools and inspiration to continue our work

As the meeting came to a close participants appreciated the day as a rare and much needed opportunity to discuss advocacy strategies.

Paul Kidd: What a day! It is just so amazing to be in this room with all of these incredible people and the sense you have of how much passion and energy and commitment there is around this issue.

Richard Elliott: Even as we face numerous setbacks in our own context sometimes, we see that in fact people are making breakthroughs elsewhere and then that helps us put pressure domestically on decision makers, on legislators, on judges.

Michaela Clayton: It’s important to learn from how people have achieved successes and what have been peoples’ problems in achieving successes in different countries in addressing criminalisation. So for us it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn from others.

Dora Musinguzi: I was encouraged to know that the struggle is not only for us in Africa, in Uganda, and I was also encouraged to know that our colleagues have made progress, and so we can.

Sean Strub: I think everywhere that there is an effort for this advocacy for reform, it is a constantly evolving effort. And the fact that the HIV Justice Network and others brought together this global community which is incredibly mutually supportive. I think of any aspect of the epidemic, I can’t think of an area where there is more collegiality and mutual respect than those of us who’ve centered our work around criminalisation reform. That’s what we’re seeing here in Melbourne, just an expansion of that, and all of us going home with more ideas and tools and inspiration to continue our work.

To remain connected with the global advocacy movement against overly broad HIV criminalisation, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation to join our mailing list.

Kan. health agency pledges to protect AIDS/HIV patients from quarantines, clearing bill's path

TOPEKA, Kansas – A promise from Kansas’ health department Thursday to continue protecting AIDS and HIV patients from being quarantined has resolved a dispute over a legislative proposal for helping medical personnel and emergency workers who may have been exposed to infectious diseases.

Norway: National Association of People Living with HIV responds to Norwegian Law Commission report

Yesterday was the deadline for written responses to the Norwegian Law Commission report which shocked and disappointed HIV and human rights advocates in Norway and around the world on its release last October.

After spending almost two years examining every aspect of the use of the criminal law to punish and regulate people with communicable diseases (with a specific focus on HIV) the Commission recommended that Norway continues to essentially criminalise all unprotected sex by people living with HIV regardless of the actual risk of HIV exposure and regardless of whether or not there was intent to harm.  The only defence written into the new draft law is for the HIV-negative partner to give full and informed consent to unprotected sex that is witnessed by a healthcare professional.

Since then, Professor Matthew Weait has published Some Reflections on Norway’s Law Commission Report on Criminal Law and the Transmission of Disease on his blog highlighting some of problems with the arguments used in the report.

We have also published an interview with Kim Fangen, the only member of the Commission to vote against the use of a specific law to control and punish people with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, which presented an alternative vision.

Today, we publish the English translation of the written response by Nye Pluss, the Norwegian national association of people living with HIV.

The organisation found that, overall, the report has three key weaknesses:

• It does not take into account the formidable global challenges related to HIV and AIDS and is not consistent with the international responsibilities that Norway has to follow-up recommendations that have come from a variety of organisations, including UNAIDS.

• It does not take into account the medical advances that have taken place in the HIV field over the past few years., in particular that HIV treatment is, in fact, now prevention, and that testing and treatment (“treatment as prevention”) is one of the most important preventive measures to combat the global HIV epidemic.

• It does not acknowledge that HIV criminalisation will help to prevent effective contact tracing and counselling, and thus influence the HIV response in the wrong direction. A desire for the use of punishment is, therefore, at the expense of public health.

Nye Pluss recommends that the Government and Parliament reject the choice of the majority’s conclusions in this area and remove the particular provisions of the Criminal Code.

The HIV Justice Network fully supports their arguments and conclusions and hopes that Norways parliamentarians follow the lead of Labour’s Håkon Haugli and The Conservative Party’s Bent Høie who came out against any specific law last July.

Below is the English translation of the Nye Pluss response, shortened and paraphrased in some areas, but with their full agreement and permission.  The original Norwegian version can be read here.

Nye Pluss’s board has read and discussed the Norwegian report. Our perspective is that, as people living with HIV, all aspects of Norwegian HIV policies, including any special penal provision, must have the net result of fewer new infections. Our primary perspective is therefore one of public health.

We have found that, overall, this report has three key weaknesses:

• It does not take into account the formidable global challenges related to HIV and AIDS and is not consistent with the international responsibilities that Norway has to follow-up recommendations that have come from a variety of organisations, including UNAIDS.

• It does not take into account the medical advances that have taken place in the HIV field over the past few years., in particular that HIV treatment is, in fact, now prevention, and that testing and treatment (“treatment as prevention”) is one of the most important preventive measures to combat the global HIV epidemic.

• It does not acknowledge that HIV criminalisation will help to prevent effective contact tracing and counselling, and thus influence the HIV response in the wrong direction. A desire for the use of punishment is, therefore, at the expense of public health.

Below, we elaborate our views on these three objections.

Norway’s international responsibility in the fight against HIV

The fight against HIV and AIDS is one of the biggest challenges we face in the world: two million die every year due to AIDS-related illnesses. Around 35 million people live with HIV globally. Nearly three million are newly infected with HIV each year. Norwegian authorities have a responsibility to contribute to the international HIV response. We therefore believe that the discussion on penalising HIV exposure or transmission in Norway must be seen in relation to  the international challenges we face. This report does not live up to those challenges.

At page 184 the report states:

“UNAIDS ‘work is global, but is mainly aimed at countries where the prevalence of HIV and AIDS is high. UNAIDS has no European office, such as WHO and recommendations etc. have a global objectives and are hardly suitable for Scandinavian or European conditions. The committee’s review will be largely based on our cultural context, which can be very different from the global.”

It therefore concludes that UNAIDS’ work and recommendations specifically relating to criminal laws are not relevant for Norway, while Norwegian authorities support UNAIDS efforts globally. This is, in our opinion, a somewhat arrogant and culturally discriminatory attitude to the situation in other countries. Although Norwegian law is only applicable in Norway, we expect that Norwegian laws at home should also follow, and are not contrary to, the beliefs and policies that we export to other countries in the world.

“Treatment as prevention” – a medical breakthrough in the fight against HIV

A medical breakthrough took place when the first effective HIV medicines appeared in 1996. In countries where there was good access to these medicines, the number of AIDS-related deaths fell quickly and drastically.  Treatment as prevention is, perhaps, just as big a breakthrough – we now know that effective HIV medication prevents new HIV infections. New research shows that the risk of infection is reduced by 96%, more than any other prevention method.

[Several paragraphs discuss international policy relating to ‘treatment as prevention’….]

Nye Pluss notes with surprise that the report only once refers to “treatment as prevention” and even then in a way that gives the impression that the authors of this section have not acquired up-to-date knowledge of the issue. It is regrettable that such an important resource which claims to provide a basis for Parliament to examine Norwegian HIV policy in a holistic context – not least relating to the criminal law – treats such an important part of international HIV policy so superficially. We believe that it is a serious academic failure not to discuss the effects of punitive sanctions on earlier testing and treatment.

Criminal law regulation of serious infectious diseases – an obstacle in the fight against HIV

HIV criminalisation has been a growing problem in many countries around the world in recent years. Criminalisation helps to maintain stigma and prevent openness about HIV, and is thus an unwanted obstacle in HIV treatment and prevention. In addition, HIV criminalisation in many countries works to suppress women and minority groups that are particularly vulnerable to HIV.

Nye Pluss believes that the criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission has been a barrier to effective HIV prevention in Norway. In some groups, annual HIV figures have tripled over the last ten years, compared with the previous decade.

A future, efficient Norwegian HIV policy will depend on effective and efficient testing, counselling, contact tracing and treatment, such as a “treatment as prevention” strategy. Effective testing of affected populations, effective tracing of possible infected sexual partners and effective treatment is, along with condoms and awareness, cornerstones of reducing new infections in Norway.

For those of us living with HIV, it is important that a future Norwegian strategy is successful, so that fewer people acquire HIV in Norway….One such major obstacle to achieve reduced infection figures is the criminalisation of HIV through a special provision in the Criminal Code, as advocated by the majority of the committee behind the report.

In the pharmaceutical industry….the manufacturer must show that the drug’s harmful effects do not exceed its positive effects… Surely it is possible that an HIV law will negatively impact vulnerable groups of people with HIV who have immigrated from countries with non-democratic regimes, who are more likely to go underground if there are threats of punitive sanctions, so that testing, disclosure, contact tracing, treatment and counselling is not available to them? Nye Pluss consider it obvious that there exists such a legitimate doubt and that this is precisely one of the reasons that some MPs have requested a separate investigation of the criminal law as it relates to HIV. “It is therefore surprising that the majority of the commission’s members argue, without any scientific evidence, that there would be no negative impact to an HIV law.”

Moreover, many members of the committee suggest that “decriminalization could be perceived as a signal that infecting others or exposing others to infection, is no longer a serious matter”(page 248). This is an unscientific, tautological statement based on the completely undocumented assumption that because HIV exposure and transmission is criminalised in Norway it has worked as a prevention tool, and that decriminalising it would lead to more infections, despite a lack of any evidence supporting this.

Nye Pluss believes the committee majority here are completely wrong, and we can refer to international research studies that support this.

[A summary of studies from Canada (O’Byrne, 2012), the US (Sero, 2012), Scotland (Bird and Leigh-Brown, 2001), and England (Whitlock, Warwick et al, 2010) showing a negative impact of HIV criminalisation follows.]

Nye Pluss finds it surprising that the majority of the Committee does not seem to be familiar with the research that has been done in recent years which shows that HIV criminalisation has unique negative impacts on willingness to test, to disclose to sexual partners, and in the creation of uncertainty amongst health care workers and counsellors. This somewhat surprising rejection of the existence of such research and thus a lack of discussion of such readily available research, weakens, in Nye Pluss’s perception, a range of the majority’s conclusions on the importance of the criminal law’s impact on public health: not to discuss the importance of documented research in this area is a serious mistake and results in the majority’s conclusions on public health failing in crucial ways.

Another key point of the debate around a penalty provision for people with HIV is the growth we have seen in HIV figures among particularly vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men, over the last ten years…The extremely serious issue that is raised is whether the relatively large number of prosecutions over the past decade has affected HIV testing behaviour, thus increasing the number of untreated individuals, resulting in more new infections.

It is a serious public health issue when there is a tripling of HIV infection among men who have sex with men for the last ten years in Norway. We are in absolutely no doubt that public health has not benefitted from the use of the Penal Code, and are of the opinion that the studies and analyses conducted to date, and as mentioned above, show with great clarity that the increased number of criminal trials over the last decade have impacted Norwegian society and public health in an extremely negative way. Nye Pluss cannot see that the Criminal Code’s provisions against HIV, which the majority recommend, will result in fewer HIV cases.

Nye Pluss believes that the latest scientific advances pertaining to HIV treatment and prevention will do perfectly well by themselves without assistance from the criminal law, including those few cases where restrictive measures for infection control law would be needed against an individual.

Conclusions

Nye Pluss believes that the Committee’s recommendations to maintain the criminal regulation of HIV exposure and transmission and other general dangerous diseases, would undermine Norway’s international responsibility to participate in a common front to combat HIV in the world.

We must recognise that since 100% safe sex is not possible it would be impractical to allow the courts to put a specific limit on what is punishable in a world where sex is a universal activity for the continuation of humanity … To punish a select few who have not mastered ‘safer sex’ – defined narrowly as condom use – is neither a fair or an effective tool in this fight, but rather the opposite.

No matter where you draw the line regarding what is, or is not, a criminal offense, a specific penal code criminalising HIV exposure and transmission will prevent effective prevention, early testing, contact tracing, treatment and counselling, and will put a spoke in the wheels of the “treatment as prevention” strategy that promises to be the breakthrough in the fight against HIV. That the criminal law should be both an obstacle to international responsibility and to effective measures for domestic public health in this area is unacceptable for society.

Nye Pluss recommends that the Government and Parliament reject the choice of the majority’s conclusions in this area and remove the particular provisions of the Criminal Code.

New Zealand: ‘HIV predator’ is named; seventh complainant adds further charges

The man dubbed the ‘HIV predator’ had his name and face splashed all over New Zealand’s media today in what has become the biggest criminal HIV transmission case in NZ history. There are now seven complainants (six men, one woman) of whom five are alleging that the man was source of their HIV infection.

As well as his name and several photos, today’s report on GayNZ.com includes many of the details left out of their earlier reporting, including his online dating profile nicknames and the name of the street he lived on in Auckland. They also highlight that HIV testing centres are anticipating a rise in HIV testing today and over the weekend as people recognise the man. But surely this is as much a ‘fishing expedition’ as a public health warning.

Today’s story on TVNZ.com includes a quote from Bruce Kilmister, chief executive of NZ’s PLHIV organisation, Body Positive

[Kilmister] said the alleged charges significantly changed a lot of people’s lives. “Everybody who has had an association with him in the past should come forward for a test. But it’s also a timely reminder that everybody has a responsibility to keep themselves safe and follow safe sex practice. HIV positive people have an added responsibility not to transmit the virus, and the best way they can do that is to have safe sex.”

To put the case into perspective, according to data from New Zealand’s Ministry of Health (AIDS New Zealand Issue 63 – March 2009 ) only 184 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2008 – of whom 91 were acquired via sex between men, but only 70% of these were acquired in New Zealand, most of whom lived in Auckland – and this was the highest number ever recorded. Since there are now five gay men (aged between 17 and 31) who claim the accused man infected them, this ‘cluster’ alone would represent around 8% of new diagnoses.

Adding to the panic is the 19 year-old female complainant (who has not tested positive). Between 1999-2008 there were only 52 women diagnosed with HIV that was heterosexually acquired in New Zealand. The TVNZ article continues

The fact a woman had allegedly been affected raised concerns the virus may have spread into the heterosexual community. “The reality is that most women think of the pill as the beginning and end of safe sex. It needs to be a message that goes right across the broad spectrum,” [said Kilmister.]

If this man is the source of five (or possibly more) infections, this certainly is a public health concern, and the criminal justice system involvement is, indeed, a result of the failure of public health. The call for new and better public health laws in New Zealand are understandable, and certainly would be better than the current system which required media and CJS intervention.

However, last year the NZ Ministry of Health published a study examining HIV prevalence in New Zealand, both diagnosed and undiagnosed (AIDS New Zealand Issue 62 – November 2008) which found a prevalence of 4.4% amongst men who have sex with men attending sexual health clinics, of whom only half were diagnosed. Undiagnosed people can’t disclose – and cannot be publically (or even privately) named and shamed as a way to warn others about specifically avoiding them. Undiagnosed people may also be having as much – or more – ‘promiscuous’ sex as the so-called ‘HIV predator’.

Earlier in the week, TVNZ ran an in-depth look at the case and interviewed Michael Stevens, the man who orginally brought the allegations to GayNZ.com and Simon Harger-Forde, director of HIV prevention at New Zealand AIDS Foundation. It makes for uncomfortable viewing by making patient confidentiality appear to be something bad, and conflating two issues (non-disclosure resulting in HIV exposure or transmisison being a criminally liable act and the lack of an effective public health response) without any examination of the issue of shared responsibility for sexual health. Only at the very end does Mr Harger-Forde say that laws don’t protect anyone, and that everyone should be using condoms.

Finally, an interesting blog posting from a feminist commentator, which highlights other concerns – that this case will end up leading to further stigmatisation of gay men and people living with HIV in New Zealand, and concludes:

Safe sex is crucial, of course, but it’s also crucial that the … case doesn’t become an exercise in victim-blaming, with homophobic overtones. And it’s also important that [his] behaviour doesn’t prompt a backlash against HIV positive people, who have the same needs for affection, companionship and intimacy as the rest of us.