US: Michael Johnson’s release has reignated calls to overhaul HIV exposure laws.

He Emerged From Prison a Potent Symbol of H.I.V. Criminalization

Last week, Michael L. Johnson, a former college wrestler convicted of failing to disclose to sexual partners that he was H.I.V. positive in a racially charged case that reignited calls to re-examine laws that criminalize H.I.V. exposure, walked out of the Boonville Correctional Center in Missouri 25 years earlier than expected.

Mr. Johnson, 27, was released on parole on Tuesday after an appeals court found that his 2015 trial was “fundamentally unfair.” His original sentence was longer than the state average for second-degree murder.

Reached by phone two days after his release, Mr. Johnson said he was rediscovering freedom through convenience store snacks, cartoons and his cellphone.

“I’m feeling really, really good,” he said.

But there were periods when he felt intimidated by people who did not believe he had a right to stand up for himself, he added.

His case, which encompasses a half-dozen years of court appearances, unflattering headlines and stints in solitary confinement, has galvanized advocates working to update laws that they say further stigmatize and unfairly penalize people with H.I.V.

Mr. Johnson, who was a black, gay athlete at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., has become a public face of people who are disproportionately affected by the virus and entangled in the criminal justice system. (If current trends continue, about half of all black men who have sex with men in the United States will eventually learn they have H.I.V., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Mr. Johnson’s legal troubles began in 2013, when he was arrested after a white man he had had consensual sex with told the police he believed that Mr. Johnson had given him the virus.

Five other men, three of them white, would later testify that Mr. Johnson had not only failed to disclose his H.I.V. status before engaging in consensual sex, but had willfully lied about it.

Mr. Johnson has publicly maintained that he informed all six men he was H.I.V. positive before having sex without a condom.

After a weeklong trial in 2015 in St. Charles County, a conservative, predominantly white area northwest of St. Louis, Mr. Johnson was convicted on multiple felony counts, including recklessly infecting another with H.I.V., which carries a 10-year minimum sentence.

The jury sought the maximum penalty of 60½ years even though prosecutors offered no genetic evidence that Mr. Johnson had infected any of his partners, according to BuzzFeed News.

The judge ultimately sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

Today, some of the people who put him in prison say the sentencing and parts of the prosecution were mishandled.

“We’re still operating under laws that were based on views that are outdated and are proven inaccurate by science,” said Tim Lohmar, the St. Charles County prosecuting attorney, whose office’s handling of the trial has been criticized.

Missouri is one of about 34 states with laws that make it a crime to expose another person to the virus without disclosure or add additional penalties for people with H.I.V. who are convicted of separate offenses, such as sex work, according to the nonprofit Center for H.I.V. Law and Policy. In six states, a person may be required to register as a sex offender if convicted of an H.I.V.-related crime.

Many of these laws were written in the 1980s and 1990s under a fog of fear about the virus and how it was transmitted, and before the advent of effective treatments. In those years, Magic Johnson’s sweat on the basketball court and Greg Louganis’s blood on a diving board panicked fans and teammates. Parents pulled children from school in 1985 because an H.I.V.-positive boy with hemophilia was in their seventh-grade class.

Back then, an H.I.V. diagnosis meant debilitating symptoms and almost certain death.

For the last five years, Steven Thrasher, a journalism professor at Northwestern University, has chronicled Michael L. Johnson’s case for BuzzFeed News and recently completed his doctoral dissertation on race and H.I.V. criminalization.

Dr. Thrasher, who greeted Mr. Johnson outside the correctional facility on Tuesday, said he was first drawn to the case because of its parallels with the history of black sexuality and lynching.

“Black men would just get lynched anytime they had sex with white women in the Reconstruction period,” he said. “There was no consensual sex that could be had between white women and black men.”

Mr. Johnson’s wrestler’s body — he called himself “Tiger Mandingo” online — was a source of fascination for some of his partners. But when Mr. Johnson tested positive for H.I.V., Dr. Thrasher wrote, he became “the perfect scapegoat.”

“It was not that he had no agency or responsibility in the story,” Dr. Thrasher said on Thursday, but “he was really holding all of this anxiety and all of this worry about AIDS and stigma and H.I.V. and queerness in America all on his shoulders.”

Mr. Lohmar, the St. Charles County prosecutor, said on Thursday that “nothing about the trial was unfair,” except for his team’s failure to present certain evidence to the defense in time.

Because prosecutors did not disclose some evidence to the defense until the morning of the trial — recorded phone conversations Mr. Johnson made while in the county jail — an appeals court decided to overturn the conviction 17 months after the original sentencing.

Instead of a new trial, Mr. Johnson, who previously had a clean criminal record, accepted a plea deal in which he did not admit guilt but agreed to a 10-year sentence.

Eric M. Selig, the lawyer who negotiated on Mr. Johnson’s behalf, said the original sentence was disproportionate to the crime.

“We don’t charge people with other incurable diseases, like hepatitis, with a criminal offense for exposing others,” he said.

During his incarceration, Mr. Johnson wrote thank-you notes to friends and strangers who had written to him in support, which he said helped him deal with homophobia in prison and self-doubt.

“You lose your confidence,” he said. “I kept every single letter.”

In theory, H.I.V. exposure laws are meant to encourage H.I.V.-positive individuals to disclose their status before having sex, and to practice safer sex, with the ultimate goal of preventing the spread of the virus.

But there is no evidence that these laws have reduced risky behavior or encouraged disclosure, said Catherine Hanssens, the executive director of the Center for H.I.V. Law and Policy, which provided legal support for Mr. Johnson’s case.

In the eyes of the law, an H.I.V. diagnosis is conflated with malice, she added.

“These laws effectively treat an H.I.V. diagnosis itself as evidence that the person acted with bad intentions when sex or other types of physical contact are involved in a crime,” she said.

Additionally, many laws do not reflect recent treatment options that can give patients a life expectancy almost as long as the general population. A pill taken daily can almost eliminate transmission, experts say. But there remain large barriers to eradicating the virus, including the high cost of antiretroviral drugs, access issues, medical mistrust and other social barriers in poor and black communities.

While some states, like California, have reduced penalties for H.I.V. exposure, Missouri has one of the most punitive laws in the country. This year lawmakers introduced two bills into the Legislature that would have slightly reduced the penalty, but they never made it to a vote.

Mr. Lohmar said he learned of Mr. Johnson’s release after receiving a call from one of the witnesses in the trial, who was upset that he was not notified.

Mr. Johnson said he planned to return to college, learn a second language and share his story through advocacy organizations like the Ryan White Planning Council in Indiana. Younger people especially need to learn about the virus to prevent it from spreading, he said.

“You can’t do it without education.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

Meredith McFadden explores the ethical issues of criminalising health statuses

The Criminalization of HIV Transmission and Responsibility for Risky Behavior

Michael Johnson was released from prison on July 9th after serving five years of his original sentence of thirty years. He was in prison for failing to disclose his HIV status to his sexual partners and his sentence was longer than the state average for murder. The conviction covered transmitting HIV to two men and exposing four more to the virus, despite “an absence of genetic fingerprinting to connect him to the other men’s HIV strains.”

Johnson’s trial highlights the racist and homophobic undertones of the continued fear around HIV exposure. The images shown to the jury emphasized the darkness of Johnson’s skin, his muscularity (he was a star football player), and that two-thirds of the allegedly exposed men were white. The racist stereotypes regarding the sexuality of black men hurt Johnson’s chances in this trial, which were already slim given cringe-worthy missteps by his court-appointed public defender who claimed her client was “guilty until proven innocent.”

In the years since the trial and conviction, Johnson’s case has been a focal point of the discussion of the sexualization of black bodies and the inherent racism and homophobia in our criminal justice system. HIV criminalization laws disproportionately affect non-straight black men. Beyond these issues of justice, there is also the family of questions of the ethics surrounding sexual health. Johnson’s case is one of many where sexual relationships and health statuses are interpreted criminally, and the laws surrounding HIV transmission are not structured to reflect current empirical understandings of how the disease spreads. 

Empirical evidence regarding HIV criminalization laws suggests that having such laws do not affect disclosure of HIV status to partners or decrease risk behaviors. A key component to the sexual ethics debate, arguably, is that people who are HIV positive can be treated to the point that it is an empirical impossibility that they transmit the virus to sexual partners. When medicated, people with HIV can have an undetectable viral load, which means that there isn’t enough of the virus in the person’s system to turn up on standard tests. This makes it basically no more likely for them to transmit HIV to their partners than a partner without HIV. 

In light of this empirical reality, how should we ethically understand the risk of sexual behaviors? In recent years, some states have taken steps to make their laws more in line with the health reality of HIV transmission in particular: California has a bill that lessens the offense of knowingly transmitting HIV to a misdemeanor and a similar bill has been proposed in North Carolina. An attorney from the office that originally prosecuted Johnson in Missouri has become a supporter of a recent failed bill that would reduce punishment for knowingly expose someone to HIV in that state.

Knowingly exposing someone to risk is an ethically interesting area. There are cases where we knowingly expose people to risks and it seems ethically unproblematic. A bus driver exposes their passengers to risk on the road. A tandem jumper exposes their client to risk diving out of a plane. A friend exposes a guest to risk cooking for them, in operating ovens, in attempting to achieve safe temperatures and adequate freshness of ingredients.

There are two major ethical principles at work here, because knowingly exposing someone to risk is putting them in a position of potential harm. Serving a dinner guest a meal that you have reasonable expectations of harming them is an ethically problematic action, and we would hold you responsible for it. 

In similar yet ethically unproblematic cases, it could be that the case satisfies an ethical principle of respecting someone’s autonomy – the person consented to take on the risk, or the risk is part of their life-plan or set of values. For example, your guest would have to consent to the risk if you are serving your guest the famed potentially poisonous fish dish from Japan, fugu, where the smallest mistake in preparation could be fatal.

Another scenario where posing potential harm to someone could be unproblematic is under circumstances where the risk is so minimal or typical that if harm were to result, we wouldn’t consider another morally culpable. If you are serving dinner to a group of people buffet-style in the winter, this increases everyone’s to the risk of catching colds and flus from one another but typically we don’t’ take this to be ethically problematic. These two principles are at play when considering the risk of sexual behaviors. 

There are reasons to take on risks to one’s health and well-being, and we 

“Ending AIDS and meeting the health-related Sustainable Development Goals targets will not be possible without addressing discrimination, violence and exclusion”

Charting progress against discrimination

Laws discriminate in many ways, but the criminalization of people is one of the most devastating forms of discrimination. Despite calls for reform and the commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to remove discriminatory laws and reduce inequalities:

  • Sixty-nine countries still criminalize same-sex sexual relationships.
  • More than 100 countries criminalize drug use or the personal possession of drugs and 98 countries criminalize some form of sex work.
  • One in five people in prison are there because of drug-related crimes and 80% of those are there for personal possession or use.
  • Nineteen countries deport non-nationals on the grounds of their HIV status.

A high-level political forum is meeting in New York, United States of America, from 9 to 18 July to review the progress made against the commitments of Member States towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including those on inequality and on peace, justice and strong institutions.

“As a judge, I have seen the effect that criminal law can have on communities. It takes people outside systems of protection, declares their actions or identity illegitimate, increases stigma and excludes them from any protections our judicial, social and economic systems may provide,” said Edwin Cameron, Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Criminalization affects access to health services, housing, education, social protection and employment. The criminalization of same-sex sexual relationships, sex work or drug use prevents people from accessing health-care services, including HIV prevention, testing and treatment. Data show that gay men and other men who have sex with men are 28 times more at risk of HIV than the general population, people who inject drugs are 22 times more at risk and sex workers and transgender women are 13 times at risk. 

“To fully implement the Sustainable Development Goal agenda and make sure that no one is left behind, we need to ensure the laws are protecting people from discrimination and not pushing people into hiding from society,” said Lloyd Russell Moyle, United Kingdom Member of Parliament.

Groups that represent criminalized people are often barred from registering as nongovernmental organizations, and, for example, sex workers often can’t unionize. Propaganda laws may mean that information on, for example, HIV prevention can’t be disseminated.

“Ending AIDS and meeting the health-related Sustainable Development Goals targets will not be possible without addressing discrimination, violence and exclusion. We have an opportunity to harness the lessons from the AIDS movement and place rights and the meaningful participation of the most marginalized at the centre of the response,” said Luisa Cabal, Director for Human Rights and Gender, UNAIDS.

Criminalized groups often experience higher rates of violence than the general population. Victims of violence who are also criminalized often can’t report crimes against them to the police, and lawyers risk violence and other repercussions if they take up their cases.

“Discrimination against and criminalization of people living with HIV still continues to this day. And we are facing in Indonesia persistent stigma against and criminalizing of key populations. We will never end AIDS if we are not making their needs and rights a top priority for access to health care, protection against violence and realization of the right to health,” said Baby Rivona, from the Indonesian Positive Women Network.

Countries that decriminalize drug use and make harm reduction services available have seen reductions in new HIV infections. Evidence shows that decriminalizing sex work could avert between 33% and 46% of new HIV infections among sex workers and clients over 10 years. However, reductions in new HIV infections are not the only outcome—other outcomes include improvements in well-being and trust in law enforcement, reductions in violence and increased access to health-care and support services. Above all, however, decriminalization of people results in them no longer being seen as criminals and stigmatized by society.

UNAIDS and UNDP urge countries to lift all forms of HIV-related travel restrictions

UNAIDS and UNDP call on 48* countries and territories to remove all HIV-related travel restrictions

New data show that in 2019 around 48* countries and territories still have restrictions that include mandatory HIV testing and disclosure as part of requirements for entry, residence, work and/or study permits

GENEVA, 27 June 2019—UNAIDS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are urging countries to keep the promises made in the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to remove all forms of HIV-related travel restrictions. Travel restrictions based on real or perceived HIV status are discriminatory, prevent people from accessing HIV services and propagate stigma and discrimination. Since 2015, four countries have taken steps to lift their HIV-related travel restrictions—Belarus, Lithuania, the Republic of Korea and Uzbekistan.

“Travel restrictions on the basis of HIV status violate human rights and are not effective in achieving the public health goal of preventing HIV transmission,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director, a.i. “UNAIDS calls on all countries that still have HIV-related travel restrictions to remove them.”

“HIV-related travel restrictions fuel exclusion and intolerance by fostering the dangerous and false idea that people on the move spread disease,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development Group. “The 2018 Supplement of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law was unequivocal in its findings that these policies are counterproductive to effective AIDS responses.”

Out of the 48 countries and territories that maintain restrictions, at least 30 still impose bans on entry or stay and residence based on HIV status and 19 deport non-nationals on the grounds of their HIV status. Other countries and territories may require an HIV test or diagnosis as a requirement for a study, work or entry visa. The majority of countries that retain travel restrictions are in the Middle East and North Africa, but many countries in Asia and the Pacific and eastern Europe and central Asia also impose restrictions.

“HIV-related travel restrictions violate human rights and stimulate stigma and discrimination. They do not decrease the transmission of HIV and are based on moralistic notions of people living with HIV and key populations. It is truly incomprehensible that HIV-related entry and residency restrictions still exist,” said Rico Gustav, Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV.

The Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this week for its 41st session, has consistently drawn the attention of the international community to, and raised awareness on, the importance of promoting human rights in the response to HIV, most recently in its 5 July 2018 resolution on human rights in the context of HIV.

“Policies requiring compulsory tests for HIV to impose travel restrictions are not based on scientific evidence, are harmful to the enjoyment of human rights and perpetuate discrimination and stigma,” said Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. “They are a direct barrier to accessing health care and therefore ineffective in terms of public health. I call on states to abolish discriminatory policies that require mandatory testing and impose travel restrictions based on HIV status.”

The new data compiled by UNAIDS include for the first time an analysis of the kinds of travel restrictions imposed by countries and territories and include cases in which people are forced to take a test to renew a residency permit. The data were validated with Member States through their permanent missions to the United Nations.

UNAIDS and UNDP, as the convenor of the Joint Programme’s work on human rights, stigma and discrimination, are continuing to work with partners, governments and civil society organizations to change all laws that restrict travel based on HIV status as part of the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate all Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination. This is a partnership of United Nations Member States, United Nations entities, civil society and the private and academic sectors for catalysing efforts in countries to implement and scale up programmes and improve shared responsibility and accountability for ending HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

*The 48 countries and territories that still have some form of HIV related travel restriction are: Angola, Aruba, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, New Zealand, Oman, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

UNAIDS

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at unaids.org and connect with us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

US: Black/queer communities bear the grunt of HIV criminalisation laws

How HIV Stigma Leads To The Criminalization Of Black Queer Communities

After the 1990s, many black and queer people have been charged with crimes related to stigma.

After the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, many black and queer people have lived with the stigma attached to their communities. 

The association between the disease and queerness began when many of the first cases involving HIV concerns were found among gay men in 1981. Though it has been proven having sex with queer folks doesn’t constitute transmission of HIV, many remain less informed on the topic. 

This belief has filtered into the criminal justice system, where queer people have been targeted as the culprits of HIV and AIDS transmission. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of black people who receive HIV diagnoses are queer, black men. 

They say 90 percent of black heterosexual women have received a positive HIV diagnosis. Those who are infected with HIV often receive proper care, wear condoms, or have successfully suppressed the virus. Yet, black queer folks tend to have more encounters with the criminal justice system regarding possible HIV exposure, transmission, and disclosure. 

In 2015, a black gay man named Michael Johnson was charged with reckless exposure in Missouri, for not disclosing his HIV positive status with his partners. Missouri’s law states partners must disclose their HIV positive status, even if they are practicing safe sex. 

He was later portrayed by media and prosecutors as a predator, and often referred to as the screen name he used to meet potential partners: “Tiger Mandigo.” Because his accusers were white gay men, who possibly saw Johnson as a threat, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. 

HIV criminalization laws, like the one in Missouri, refuse to look at advances in HIV prevention and care. Instead, they look to lock up folks to stop the spread of what the law constitutes as a HIV epidemic. 

Science has proven HIV criminalization laws are not reducing the transmission of HIV. They are actually scaring folks, especially in black/queer communities, from going in for a HIV screening. If their diagnosis comes back positive, and they don’t share that information with partners — for fear of abandonment by their partners due to the stigma that HIV holds — they are subject to criminal prosecution. 

Since their formation, state laws have not been revised to reflect the advances in HIV treatment and prevention. Many HIV positive folks use condoms, ask for consent prior to sex, and receive treatment such as PreP. Some folks living with HIV are virally suppressed. 

Science has also shown the likelihood of HIV transmission is rare even if it is intentional. Some state laws even criminalize those with HIV for spitting or biting during sex, when science has shown saliva is not a method of HIV transmission. 

HIV criminalization laws specifically refuse to look at the evidence and use the stigma to target black queer communities for punishment, and exclude them from society. Southern states house 21 of the areas with the highest likelihood of transmission among black queer men. 

The South also has the highest mass incarceration rates, with states like Louisiana and Mississippi locking up black people the most. 

The logic, possibly, is if we lock away all those who are HIV positive for possibly transferring the virus to their partners, then the spread will be controlled and all risk will be eliminated. But, some rates of transmission have not changed despite HIV criminalization laws currently in place. 

For example, between 2012 and 2016, the rate of black, gay, and bisexual men with HIV diagnoses remained the same.

However, black/queer folks bear the grunt of these laws as they are often the target of incarceration. A total of 38 states have laws that punish people for having potential to expose someone to a STD, which includes HIV. 

Those laws include sentence enhancement if the case pertains to possible HIV exposure, transmission, or lack of disclosure. A total of 28 states have criminalization laws that are HIV specific. Then, 19 states specifically require those who are HIV positive to disclose their status to their sexual partners. 

Two-thirds of those with HIV, who are facing prosecution in states with HIV specific laws, are black. In almost every case of HIV specific prosecution, the accused have been convicted and sentenced to prison. 

Charging black queer people who are HIV positive with carceral punishment is another way of shaming them for enjoying pleasure in the guise of disease containment. If the point of ensuring safety from transmission is to contain the virus, then putting black queer folks in prison isn’t the answer. 

It instead reinstates more violence onto black/queer folks, and disregards their safety in a justice system stacked against them. It has been proven placing those who are HIV positive into prisons doesn’t de-escalate the epidemic. It only delays the process of getting everyone infected the care they need. 

It also continues to stigmatize black/queer communities who already have enough to worry about. States need to eliminate these HIV specific criminal laws and let black/queer communities live in peace.

 

Colombia: Constitutional court to examine whether the law criminalising HIV transmission is discriminatory

Source: El Tiempo, April 27, 2019 – Google translation, for article in Spanish, please scroll down.

Is Penalising HIV infection discriminating?

Should a person who transmit HIV or hepatitis B go to jail for 6 years? That is the debate that the Constitutional Court will have to settle in the coming days, by resolving a lawsuit against the law that criminalizes the transmission of these diseases.

The plaintiff considers that Article 370 of the Criminal Code violates the rights to equality and restricts the free development of personality, in particular, sexual freedom. This law establishes that there will be imprisonment of 6 to 12 years for those who, knowing that they have HIV or hepatitis B, “perform practices through which they may contaminate another person, or donate blood, semen, organs or, in general, anatomical components”

According to the lawsuit, this penalizes the fact that a person living with these diseases has sex, and makes it a crime regardless of whether preventive measures, such as antiretroviral treatments and others, are taken that make the transmission of diseases unlikely.

Thus, the plaintiff says that although the purpose of this mechanism is to protect public health, this does not justify prohibiting a population group from freely expressing their sexuality, and adds that there would be no harm when there are consensual relationships in which measures are taken to prevent infections.

On the violation of equality, the plaintiff says that the article only refers and penalizes people with HIV or hepatitis B, and not others with potentially contagious and sensitive diseases.

The debate is broad, in total the Court received 15 statements of opinion from different organizations, ministries, universities, and even the Constitutional Court of South Africa, to feed its considerations. And there are almost as many arguments in favour as there are against.

For example, the Colombian Anti-AIDS League supported the demand because it considered that rights were violated, adding that laws that criminalize exposure to HIV leave the burden of prevention to the people who live with it and said that the real challenges are more education and better access to medical testing services and counselling

The statement sent by Edwin Cameron, magistrate of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and who lives with HIV since 1985, points out the harm of criminalizing people living with HIV, as it increases the stigma and makes it harder for them to dare to seek medical help and prevention information

He also said that to resort to norms that criminalize HIV, the UN recommends to governments that they address only those who intentionally spread the virus and concluded that if the goal is to safeguard public health, it is more effective to have better prevention and care programmes.

The statement sent by the Ministry of Justice gives the plaintiff reason that the rule is discriminatory because it is directed only to people with HIV – who have also been recognized as subjects of special constitutional protection – or hepatitis B and adds that there is no justification for the rule to be for people with these two diseases and not for others who are aware of having different infectious-contagious diseases

However, with regard to the restriction on sexual freedom, the Justice Department considered that the rule “does not violate the right to the free development of personality, but is limited to establishing the criminal consequences resulting from its abusive and harmful exercise against the rights of other people and the community “ For all this, it asks the Court to study the lawsuit and decide.

The Ministry of Health indicated, on the contrary, that the rule does not violate either the right to equality or the free development of the personality, but rather that the demand is based on an inference from the plaintiff that this restricts sexual freedom, and therefore asks to leave the rule as it is.

The Attorney General agrees that the plaintiff interpretation is that the law punishes the fact of having sex even when there is no transmission of the disease, which, says the Public Ministry, is not true. For the Attorney General’s Office, the rule is clear that in order for the offense to be established there must be an intention to cause harm by carrying out practices that could end in transmission. Because of this, the reasons for the claim are not valid and the Court is being asked not to study it and declare itself inhibited

In any case, the decision will be made by the Court, the lawsuit was handed over to Judge Cristina Pardo, who has already made a presentation that will be debated in the next few days by the Court’s full chamber.


¿Penalizar el contagio de VIH es discriminar?

Demanda dice que tipificar la propagación del virus discrimina a personas con VIH o hepatitis B.

Por: María Isabel Ortiz Fonnegra

27 de abril 2019 , 08:00 p.m.

¿Debe ir a la cárcel por 6 años una persona que contagie a otra de VIH o hepatitis B? Ese es el debate que deberá zanjar la Corte Constitucional en los próximos días, al resolver una demanda contra la ley que penaliza la propagación de estas enfermedades.

El demandante considera que el artículo 370 del Código Penal vulnera los derechos a la igualdad y restringe el libre desarrollo de la personalidad, en particular, la libertad sexual. Esta ley establece que habrá prisión de 6 a 12 años para quien, sabiendo que tiene VIH o hepatitis B, “realice prácticas mediante las cuales pueda contaminar a otra persona, o done sangre, semen, órganos o en general componentes anatómicos”.

De acuerdo con la demanda, esto penaliza el hecho de que una persona que viva con estas enfermedades tenga sexo, y lo convierte en delito sin importar si se toman las medidas preventivas que hacen improbable la transmisión de enfermedades, como tratamientos antirretrovirales y otros.

Así, el demandante dice que aunque el fin de esta media es proteger la salud pública, esto no justifica prohibirle a un grupo poblacional expresar libremente su sexualidad, y agrega que no habría afectación cuando se tienen relaciones consensuadas en las que se toman medidas para prevenir contagios.

Sobre la vulneración a la igualdad, dice que el artículo solo se refiere y penaliza a personas con VIH o hepatitis B, y no a otras con enfermedades también potencialmente contagiosas y delicadas.

El debate es amplio, en total la Corte recibió 15 conceptos de diferentes organizaciones, ministerios, universidades, e incluso de la Corte Constitucional de Sudáfrica, para alimentar sus consideraciones. Y hay casi tantos argumentos a favor como los hay en contra. 

Por ejemplo, la Liga Colombiana de Lucha contra el Sida apoyó la demanda pues consideró que sí se vulneran los derechos, agregó que leyes que penalizan la exposición al VIH dejan toda la carga de la prevención a las personas que viven con él y dijo que los verdaderos desafíos son más educación y mejor acceso a servicios de pruebas médicas y consejería.

El concepto enviado por Edwin Cameron, magistrado de la Corte Constitucional de Sudáfrica y quien vive con VIH desde 1985, señala los perjuicios de criminalizar a las personas que viven con esa enfermedad, pues incrementa el estigma y hace más difícil que se atrevan a buscar ayuda médica e información sobre prevención. 

También dijo que de recurrir a normas que criminalicen el VIH, la ONU recomienda a los gobiernos que estas se dirijan solo a quienes intencionalmente propagan el virus y concluyó que si el objetivo es salvaguardar la salud pública, es más efectivo tener mejores programas de prevención y atención.

El concepto enviado por el Ministerio de Justicia le da la razón al demandante en que la norma es discriminatoria pues está dirigida únicamente a personas con VIH –que además han sido reconocidas como sujetos de especial protección constitucional– o hepatitis B y agrega que no se advierte justificación para que la norma sea para personas con esas dos enfermedades y no para otras que son conscientes de tener enfermedades infectocontagiosas riesgosas distintas. 

Sin embargo, frente a la restricción a la libertad sexual, la cartera de Justicia consideró que la norma “no vulnera el derecho al libre desarrollo de la personalidad, sino que se limita a establecer las consecuencias penales que acarrea su ejercicio abusivo y lesivo frente a los derechos de las demás personas y la comunidad”. Por todo esto, le pide a la Corte que estudie la demanda y decida.

El Ministerio de Salud indicó, al contrario, que la norma demandada no vulnera ni el derecho a la igualdad ni el libre desarrollo de la personalidad, sino que la demanda se basa en una inferencia del accionante de que esto restringe la libertad sexual, por lo que pidió dejar la norma tal y como está.

La Procuraduría coincide en que el demandante interpreta que la norma castiga el hecho de tener sexo aun cuando no exista transmisión de la enfermedad, lo cual, dice el Ministerio Público, no es cierto. Para la Procuraduría, la norma es clara en que para que se configure el delito debe existir una intención de causar daño realizando prácticas que podrían terminar en contagio. Por esto, las razones para la demanda se caen y le pidió a la Corte no estudiarla y declararse inhibida.

En todo caso, la decisión será de la Corte, la demanda le correspondió por reparto a la magistrada Cristina Pardo, quien ya hizo una ponencia que será debatida en los próximos días por la sala plena de la Corte.

Kazakhstan: Women living with HIV submit report to CEDAW, recommending repeal of HIV criminalisation provision in Kazakhstan penal code

Source: EWNA, published on March 11, 2019

For the first time, HIV+ women in Kazakhstan submitted a shadow report to CEDAW 

Today in Geneva, at the pre-sessional working group of the 74th meeting of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) , representatives of the community of women living with HIV, women who use drugs and sex workers from Kazakhstan presented for the first time a shadow report from civil society on rights situations for women from key groups.

In July 2018, civil society organizations submitted the Shadow Civil Society Report on Discrimination and Violence against Women Living with HIV, Women Using Drugs, Sex Workers and Women from Prisons, to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women. The report is based on studies of cases of violation of rights registered by non-governmental organizations in 2015-2017. The full report is available on the EZSS website, in Russian and English .

Here is the text of the oral statement presented by Lyubov Vorontsova, Kazakhstan Union of People Living with HIV (english text below):

“Thank you, Madam Chair.

I am a woman living with HIV from Kazakhstan and I represent the voices of women from my community.

We consider it extremely important to solve the problems of institutionalized discrimination that violates the rights of women and impedes access to health and social services, as well as contribute to social and economic vulnerability.

Women living with HIV have limited access to residential services in existing crisis centers designed to help women affected by violence. In the capital of Kazakhstan, a young girl with a child who was abused by her husband in winter is refused to be placed in an orphanage, since there is such a law and she has HIV. Article 118 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan provides for criminal penalties for putting people at risk of HIV infection, which has the opposite effect – this contributes to a higher risk of HIV infection, violence and gender inequality in the family, in the health care system, in society.

According to a study of the Stigma Index, 24.2% of women living with HIV, medical workers forced to terminate a pregnancy (abortion), 34% of women living with HIV never received advice on reproductive opportunities.

We recommend:

  • Revise Article 118. “Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV / AIDS)” of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated July 3, 2014 No. 226-V SA-RC to abolish the provision criminalizing the risk of acquiring HIV
  • To set up offices in crisis centers to work with drug addicts and HIV-positive women. Mobilize state efforts to expand the network of crisis centers and other emergency services for women who have experienced domestic violence, and to ensure adequate public funding for these institutions.
  • Introduce changes to the Order of the Minister of Health and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 21, 2016 No. 1079 “On approval of the standard for providing special social services to victims of domestic violence”, limiting the possibility of women living with HIV in crisis centers.

Women who use drugs report the extreme prevalence of police brutality. Due to stigmatization, pregnant drug-addicted women cannot take advantage of necessary medical services, including drug treatment, antenatal care and post-natal care. Opioid substitution therapy is not available for women when they are hospitalized in any medical institution (including maternity hospitals, tuberculosis dispensaries, etc.).Immediately after childbirth, women are forced to travel independently to the substitution therapy program in order to receive drug support with methadone.

The rights of sex workers by medical personnel are violated, in particular, the humiliation of dignity, the infliction of physical and psychological violence, and the disclosure of HIV-positive status to third parties. For this reason, sex workers refuse timely diagnosis in medical institutions.

We recommend:

  • Develop and adopt a humanization policy for women who use drugs, laws and practices based on respect for human rights, which will protect and eliminate any discrimination and violence against women.
  • Include in the complex of preventive programs to combat HIV and AIDS at the local and national levels, training for police officers to reduce stigma and discrimination against women from vulnerable groups.
  • Actively investigate incidents of violence and any unlawful acts committed by law enforcement officers against sex workers, women who use drugs, and reported by public organizations.
  • Develop mechanisms for ensuring personal security and confidentiality that will allow women to report incidents of violence without fear for their safety.
  • Provide government funding for the provision of free family planning services, in particular contraception for marginalized and vulnerable women.
  • Provide training for medical personnel in providing quality sexual and reproductive health services for women living with HIV, sex workers and women who use drugs.
  • Include a substitution therapy program in the national health care system and drug practice, with further expansion and scaling in Kazakhstan, as well as develop mechanisms for access to treatment of opioid substitution therapy in hospitals (tub dispensary, maternity hospitals and others)

In Kazakhstan, there are no studies and disaggregated data in open sources regarding women prisoners. In the fifth periodic report, the state provides data on legislation that provides access to medical services for female prisoners. But this does not answer the question of whether it meets the needs of female prisoners.

We recommend:

  • Conduct research on the degree of satisfaction with women’s sexual and reproductive health services in places of detention, including data on women living with HIV and drug addicts, characterizing their access to antiretroviral treatment and drug treatment, including opioid substitution therapy. ”

ВПЕРВЫЕ ВИЧ+ ЖЕНЩИНЫ КАЗАХСТАНА ПРЕДСТАВИЛИ ТЕНЕВОЙ ОТЧЕТ В КЛДЖ

Сегодня в Женеве, на предсессионной рабочей группе 74 заседания Комитета ООН по ликвидации всех форм дискриминации в отношении женщин (CEDAW), представительницы сообщества женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, женщин употребляющих наркотики и секс-работниц из Казахстана, впервые представили теневой отчёт от гражданского общества о ситуации с нарушением прав в отношении женщин из ключевых групп.

В июле 2018 г. организациями гражданского общества был подан «Теневой отчет гражданского сообщества о дискриминации и насилии в отношении женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, женщин, употребляющих наркотики, секс — работниц и женщин из мест лишения свободы» в Комитет ООН по ликвидации всех форм дискриминации в отношении женщин. Отчет основан на исследованиях, случаях нарушения прав, зарегистрированных неправительственными организациями в 2015-2017 гг. С полным отчетом можно ознакомиться на сайте ЕЖСС, на русскоми английском языках.

Приводим текст устного заявления, которое представила Любовь Воронцова, Казахстанский Союз Людей, Живущих с ВИЧ (english text below):

«Спасибо, госпожа Председатель.

Я женщина, живущая с ВИЧ из Казахстана, и представляю голоса женщин из своего сообщества.

Мы считаем крайне важным решить проблемы институционализированной дискриминации, которая нарушает права женщин и препятствует доступу к медицинским и социальным услугам, а также способствуют социальной и экономической уязвимости.

Женщины, живущие с ВИЧ, имеют ограниченный доступ к услугам проживания в существующих кризисных центрах, предназначенных для помощи женщинам, пострадавшим от насилия. В столице Казахстана молодая девушка с ребенком, которая зимой подверглась насилию со стороны мужа, получает отказ быть помещенным в приют, поскольку существует такой закон и у нее ВИЧ. Cтатья 118 Уголовного Кодекса Казахстана предусматривает уголовное наказание за постановку в риск заражения ВИЧ, что имеет обратный эффект — это способствует более высокому риску заражения ВИЧ, насилия и гендерного неравенства в семье, в системе здравоохранения, в обществе.

По результатам исследования Индекс Стигмы 24,2% женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, медицинские работники принуждали к прерыванию беременности (аборту), 34% женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, никогда не получали консультацию по репродуктивным возможностям.

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Пересмотреть Статью 118. «Заражение вирусом иммунодефицита человека (ВИЧ/СПИД)» Уголовного кодекса РК от 3 июля 2014 года № 226-V ЗРК, чтобы отменить норму, устанавливающую уголовную ответственность за риск заражения ВИЧ.
  • Создать отделения в кризисных центрах для работы с наркозависимыми и ВИЧ-положительными женщинами. Мобилизовать усилия государства по расширению сети кризисных центров и других служб экстренной помощи женщинам, пережившим домашнее насилие, гарантировать адекватное государственное финансирование для этих учреждений.
  • Внести изменения в Приказ Министра здравоохранения и социального развития Республики Казахстан от 21 декабря 2016 года № 1079 «Об утверждении стандарта оказания специальных социальных услуг жертвам бытового насилия», ограничивающий возможность пребывания в кризисных центрах женщин, живущих с ВИЧ.

Женщины, употребляющие наркотики, сообщают о крайней распространенности жестокости полиции. Из-за стигматизации беременные наркозависимые женщины не могут воспользоваться необходимыми медицинскими услугами, в том числе наркологической, дородовой и послеродовой помощью. Опиоидная заместительная терапия не доступна для женщин при госпитализации в любые медицинские учреждения (включая родильные дома, противотуберкулезные диспансеры и т.д.). Сразу после родов женщины вынуждены самостоятельно добираться до программы заместительной терапии, чтобы получить лекарственную поддержку метадоном.

Нарушаются права секс-работниц со стороны медицинского персонала, в частности, унижение достоинства, причинение физического и психологического насилия, раскрытие ВИЧ-положительного статуса третьим лицам. По этой причине секс-работницы отказываются от своевременной диагностики в медицинских учреждениях

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Разработать и принять политику гуманизации в отношении женщин, употребляющих наркотики, законов и практик, основанных на уважении прав человека, которые обеспечат защиту и исключают любую дискриминацию и насилие в отношении женщин.
  • Включить в комплекс профилактических программ по противодействию ВИЧ и СПИД на местном и национальном уровнях обучающие мероприятия для полицейских о снижении стигмы и дискриминации по отношению к женщинам из уязвимых групп.
  • Активно расследовать случаи насилия и любых незаконных действий, совершенных сотрудниками правоохранительных органов против секс-работниц, женщин, употребляющих наркотики, зарегистрированных и сообщенных общественными организациями.
  • Разработать механизмы обеспечения личной безопасности и конфиденциальности, которые позволят женщинам сообщать о случаях насилия без страха за свою безопасность.
  • Обеспечить государственное финансирование на предоставление бесплатных услуг по планированию семьи, в частности контрацепции для маргинализированных и уязвимых женщин.
  • Обеспечить подготовку медицинского персонала по предоставлению качественных услуг по сексуальному и репродуктивному здоровью для женщин, живущих с ВИЧ, секс-работниц и женщин, употребляющих наркотики.
  • Включить программу заместительной терапии в национальную систему здравоохранения и наркологическую практику, с дальнейшим расширением и масштабированием в Казахстане, а так же разработать механизмы для доступа к лечению опиоидной заместительной терапии в условиях стационаров (тубдиспансер, родильные дома и другие)

В Казахстане отсутствуют исследования и дезагрегированные данные в открытых источниках в отношении женщин-заключенных. В пятом периодическом докладе государство приводит данные о законодательных актах, которые обеспечивают доступ к медицинским услугам для женщин-заключенных. Но, это не отвечает на вопрос о том, удовлетворяет ли это потребности женщин-заключенных.

Мы рекомендуем:

  • Провести исследования о степени удовлетворения услугами по сохранению сексуального и репродуктивного здоровья женщин в местах лишения свободы, включая данные о женщинах, живущих с ВИЧ и наркозависимых, характеризирующие их доступ к антиретровирусному лечению и наркологической помощи, включая опиоидную заместительную терапию.»

US: Five laws categorised as “bad” laws by the Human Rights Campaign in Missouri , including HIV/AIDS criminalisation laws

Missouri ranked in lowest category for LGBTQ protections, nondiscrimination

The Human Rights Campaign recently released their fifth annual State Equality Index — a state-by-state report detailing statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people, assessing how well states are doing to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.

This year, Missouri received the lowest rating, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” This rating is given to states that focus on raising suport for basic LGBTQ equality laws, such as non-discrimination laws, and for states focusing on municipal protections for LGBTQ people including opposing negative legislation.

Twenty-eight states earned this rating. Seventeen states earned the highest rating, “Working Toward Innovative Equality,” while the remaining five earned “Solidifying Equality” or “Building Equality.”

Karis Agnew, field director for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, explained that they expected this rating for Missouri.

“It does not surprise me because there are basic protections that LGBTQ people lack in Missouri and those include protection of employment, housing and public accommodations,” Agnew said.

Missouri has a total of six laws that benefit LGBTQ people — hate crime laws, a college and universities non-discrimination law, a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy for state employees, an anti-bullying law specifically for cyberbullying, transgender inclusion in sports, and name and gender updates on identification documents for drivers licenses.

Missouri has five laws that the HRC categorizes as “bad” laws including HIV/AIDS criminalization laws, a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and transgender exclusions in state Medicaid coverage.

Missouri lacks all parenting laws such as parental presumption for same-sex couples, second parent adoption, and foster care non-discrimination. Missouri also lacks basic non-discrimination laws for employment, housing, public accommodation, education, adoption, foster care, insurance, credit, and jury selection.

The absence of youth laws in Missouri include anti-bullying laws, protection from conversion therapy, and laws to address LGBTQ youth homelessness. In the health and safety category, Missouri lacks laws including LGBTQ nondiscrimantion protections in Affordable Care Act exchanges, transgender healthcare coverage, and name and gender updates on identification documents for birth certificates.

Alex Padilla, co-president of Spectrum, an LGBTQ group at Missouri State Univerity, explained his fear regarding how few laws Missouri has protecting LGBTQ individuals like himself.

“Whenever I first came out, I was working at a fast food job and I was worried that I could be fired for who I was,” Padilla said.

He explained that he did a quick search online and found that there were no laws protecting him from being harassed or fired because of who he was.

Agnew, who prefers using gender-neutral pronouns, explained that although this rating is low, organizations like PROMO are working hard behind the scenes to make sure Missouri’s laws are progressing.

“When it comes to passing laws that are pro-equality, the thing that we really need the most to be able to do that is make sure that we don’t have bills that are anti-LGBTQ,” Agnew said.

Agnew explained that in 2018 five anti-LGBTQ laws were filed but PROMO worked to ensure zero made it to the governor’s desk to be signed.

“When those are filed, that is our priority, so it is really hard for us to file proactive legislation and pass proactive legislation when we have legislation that is harmful to LGBTQ people that we work so hard to prevent from passing,” Agnew said.

Agnew said a big reason why Missouri is far behind other states in passing pro-LGBTQ legislation is that Missouri legislators are not aware of what it is like to live as an LGBTQ individual.

“I think a lot of our legislators in Missouri honestly don’t know what it’s like to be LGBTQ — the majority of our legislators are not LGBTQ themselves,” Agnew said. “And because of that, I think a lot of them have a lot to learn from their constituents that are.”

Agnew said this year is the 21st year that PROMO has worked to file the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in places of employment, housing and public accommodations.

“When their constituents aren’t bringing it up they assume it’s not important and not needed,” Agnew said. “The number one thing people can do is engage their elected officials and talk to them about why something like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act is so important to them.”

Padilla explained how important it is for students to get involved.

“Help us lobby for equality, Padilla said. “Advocating for these things and showing that you are an ally is really helpful to all of Missouri and all of Missouri’s LGBTQ people.”

PROMO is hosting an “Equality Day,” a day of lobbying where people in the community come up to Jefferson City and talk to legislators about the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act on April 10.

Uganda: Mapping of the legal environment shows how the current criminal justice system discriminates against people living with HIV

Published in the Daily Monitor on Febraury 22, 2019

Report shows how laws discriminate against HIV positive people

KAMPALA- Various existing laws criminalise people living with HIV/ Aids, according to a new report released in Kampala on Thursday.

The report is titled: “Draft report on the assessment and mapping of the legal environment on provisions of HIV and TB services to let populations, persons living with HIV and tuberculosis”

“The existing legal framework is not favourable for some categories of the key, vulnerable and priority populations to freely access health services in Uganda. Specifically, the lifestyles sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons and makes them most affected by the existing legal framework in Uganda,” read part of the report

It adds: “The laws criminalise sex work, same sex relationships and drug use. This results into violence, harassment, disappointment of sex workers and their legal recourse to address injustice against them.” “The other law, the HIV and Aids prevention and Control Act although not specifically targeting key vulnerable and priority populations, has implications for both the general affected by HIV in Uganda.”

The report indicates that the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act 2014 provides for voluntary HIV testing in Sub Section 9. However, the voluntarism is not considered if a person commits a sexual offense as part of the criminal proceedings and yet Section 8 provides for identity of a person tested with HIV not to be disclosed or released to any person except in accordance with the law and medical standards.

The report was carried out by civil society organisation Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in conjunction with Aids and Rights Alliance for South Africa (ARASA).

The current criminal justice system is also discriminative as it hands down more deterrent jail terms to those suspects found to be living with HIV than their counterparts that are not.

Reacting to the aforementioned finding, a law professor at Makerere University, Prof. Ben Twinomugisha, explained that sometimes it’s prudent for the prosecution to take an HIV test of a suspect accused of committing a sexual offense for purposes of securing a conviction.

However, he was also quick to say that this compulsory HIV testing will lead to violation of their human rights and that this will drive those infected away instead of going to hospital to get medication.

“But a civil society organisation and I, have since petitioned court challenging Section 43 of the HIV Prevention and Control Act about criminalization of HIV,”  Prof. Twinomugisha said

“Why is it that a person suffering from Hepatitis B, which is more deadly than HIV are not subjected to a test when they commit a crime,” he wondered.

The study was carried out in three districts of Gulu, Mbarara and Tororo.

The study was mainly about the extent to which laws and policies protect and promote the rights of persons living with HIV/ Aids, let populations like sex workers, truck drivers and fishermen can access health care and services.

The HIV prevalence in Uganda stands at 6.2%. In 2016, approximately 1.4 million people were living with HIV and 28,000 Ugandans were estimated to have died of Aids-related illness.

Travel and long-stay restrictions for foreign nationals with HIV have no logical basis and have been deemed a human rights violation by the United Nations

Published in South China Morning Post on February 5, 2019

Visa restrictions for HIV-positive immigrants still in place in dozens of countries

  • Recent leak in Singapore of data of HIV-positive people renewed attention on its curbs on long-term stays by those who have the virus
  • Countries with restrictions include Russia and the United Arab Emirates; there’s no logical basis for them any more, UNAids says

A data leak of Singaporean medical records exposing the HIV-positive status of 14,200 people last month triggered concerns about a backlash for those whose health status was made public in a country that continues to stigmatise the disease.

But the case, involving the records of 8,800 foreign nationals who tested positive for HIV in Singapore, also shines a spotlight on the city state’s restrictive policies towards foreigners with HIV, who face barriers to staying in the country for more than 90 days unless married to a Singaporean national.

The records were leaked by a foreigner in just such a situation, American Mikhy Farrera Brochez, who was deported after serving jail time for drug-related crimes and fraud, including hiding his HIV status. He was able to access the records with help from his boyfriend, a Singaporean doctor.

Singapore is one of only a handful of developed nations that still have laws restricting the long-term stay of foreign nationals with HIV – laws that have been deemed a human rights violation by the United Nations.

“When this [1998] law was brought in there was a lot more fear of unknown issues around disease … but [today] the logic is just not borne out by any scientific or medical basis,” says Eamonn Murphy, UNAids regional director for Asia and the Pacific.

Instead, countries that still have such restrictions in place often do so because of “historical convention, ideology, or even passivity”, Murphy says. He notes that UNAids is renewing its focus on the issue this year, compiling a new report on national restrictions.

UNAids most recent comprehensive report on HIV-related travel and immigration laws in 2015 listed 35 countries with such restrictions.

However, incomplete data published in 2018 by UNAids named at least 18 countries that have policies restricting entry, stay or residence for people living with HIV. Information from many countries were left off the list, and will be updated this year to reflect the true extent. The same report found that 60 countries require testing for residence or other permits, including marriage, not limited to foreigners.

The exact numbers, however, are difficult to pin down, experts say. An independently researched global database counts 49 countries with HIV-related restrictions on long-term stay in 2018, based on information sourced from local embassies and reports from travellers and immigrants. Countries with restrictions include Russia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.

“The data the countries present about themselves in diplomatic settings can be different from the policies that are actually executed,” says American epidemiologist Jessica Keralis, who has researched the public health impacts of such HIV-related restrictions.

For example, countries may not have regulations “on the books”, but employers can revoke visas for HIV-positive employees, or state insurance policy can make it difficult for immigrants to afford treatment, she says.

In other cases, official policy may not be known by regional or local officials and institutions.

These distinctions matter for HIV-positive immigrants, whether white-collar workers, migrant labourers or students, according to David Haerry, who publishes the Global Database on HIV-Specific Travel and Residence Restrictions, which names the 49 countries.

“Oftentimes people [sent abroad for work] don’t know and they fall in the trap: if you don’t know and you have to be tested on the ground, and then you are sent back on health grounds, your company knows,” he says. “It’s a big issue.”

Haerry receives daily emails through the database from people around the world wondering how to travel or relocate safely while living with HIV. In recent years, he’s seen restrictive policies become more of an issue for students looking to study abroad, but who fear the consequences of mandatory HIV testing even in countries where there is no explicit restriction on those who are HIV-positive.

For such situations, “we have no solution”, Haerry says.

Many national restrictions are holdovers from the 1980s, before the disease’s transmission was understood and the antiretroviral therapies and daily medications that can prevent its spread became widely available, according to UNAids’ Murphy. But he has seen progress globally.

A number of countries changed their policies after UNAids launched a 2008 campaign against the 59 governments that had bans at that time. The United States, South Korea and China were among the nations to remove restrictions in 2010, although South Korea retained some related to immigration, while China reportedly has mandatory HIV testing for some visas.

Singapore revised its own regulations in 2015 to allow people living with HIV to enter the country for short-term stays of less than three months, while South Korea in 2017 removed its final restriction, which mandated the testing of foreign teachers.

But conservative cultures, social stigma and inertia have kept some restrictions in play in other nations, experts say. The majority of such restrictions are found in conservative countries; more countries in the Middle East than anywhere else have them.

“The basis of discrimination is misconception and fear, and with HIV these boil down to drug use, men who have sex with men, and all these realities that countries don’t want to face,” says Peter Wiessner, who co-authors the global database. “There’s also xenophobia mixed in.”

That element can have a negative public health impact, according to Keralis.

“It communicates that HIV is a foreign contagion and a foreigners’ problem, and if [citizens] don’t mix with foreigners then they are not at risk,” she says. She notes that, paired with a lack of proper sex education, this can create a dangerous situation.

“There’s no incentive for people to seek more information or modify their behaviours,” she says.