US: Closing session of CDC's national HIV Prevention conference highlights stigma and HIV-specific criminalisation laws as barriers to improving outcomes in prevention and care

HIV Stigma in Focus at Closing Session of CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference

HIV-related stigma and its impact on HIV-related health disparities were the topic of the final plenary session at CDC’s National HIV Prevention Conference. The March 21 session examined social and cultural factors that have contributed to stigma as well as efforts to combat the effects of HIV-related stigma on specific populations. Moderator Johanne Morne, director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, reminded the conference participants that stigma is an historic and continuing theme that must be addressed to improve outcomes along both the HIV prevention and care continuums.

HIV Stigma and What Can Be Done to Combat It

Greg Millett, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, delivered the keynote address, “Progress: Same or Different? HIV Stigma at 37.” He noted that while many of the most extreme forms of stigma from the early days of the HIV epidemic have dissipated over time, inaccurate beliefs about the HIV risk of casual social contact persist.

Such stigmatizing beliefs are supported by societal factors such as HIV criminalization laws, Mr. Millett said. He pointed to the fact that 29 states still have HIV-specific criminalization laws on the books and while over 800 people have been prosecuted using these laws, none of the prosecutions were for any actual HIV transmission. He highlighted a CDC assessment that found that HIV criminalization laws have no detectable HIV prevention effect given there was no association with HIV diagnosis rates or AIDS diagnoses in states with such laws.

Further, he observed that not only are people with or at risk for HIV too often stigmatized, but the effective tools to prevent HIV such as PrEP are also stigmatized. A recent study found that individuals who experienced a high degree of stigma around their choice to use PrEP were 50% less likely to be on PrEP at their next clinical visit. Additionally, he pointed to syringe services programs (SSPs) that are known to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs. Yet, stigma related to both HIV and people who use drugs limits public support for SSPs, limiting their expansion in many communities that could benefit from them, he said.

One factor that may enable this enduring stigma, Mr. Millett posited, is Americans’ lack of personal knowledge of people living with HIV. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that only 45% of Americans say they know someone with HIV. To counter that, he encouraged more people living with HIV to be open about their status since that would contribute to stigma reduction. He also applauded creative efforts from the HIV community to combat stigma. These included public announcements by people living with HIV of their status on social media, anti-stigma campaigns, and even a series of social media videos about living with HIV.

Combatting HIV-related Stigma and Improving Outcomes for Specific Populations

A series of presentations followed, each discussing unique approaches to combating HIV stigma and offering recommendations on how to help reduce it to improve HIV prevention and care outcomes.

  • Daniel Driffin, co-founder of THRIVE SS, discussed building innovative, community-driven solutions to address HIV disparities among African American men living with HIV. Originally founded as a support group in Atlanta, the program has grown to an online platform that engages and offers support to more than 3,500 people across the southeast United States. Among THRIVE SS’s innovations are programs to re-engage and retain men in HIV care, a mental health group, and a photo campaign. Mr. Driffin shared results of a 2018 program participant survey that revealed that 92% of the men surveyed self-reported being virally suppressed. “Black men living with HIV are achieving viral suppression,” Mr. Driffin declared. “I challenge you to no longer say these men are ‘hard to reach.’” His advice for others seeking similar outcomes included: using the lived experiences of people living with HIV to inform HIV care and prevention, re-imagining everything, and supporting community-created approaches.
  • Omar Martinez, assistant professor at Temple University’s School of Social Work, examined HIV-related stigma among sexual and gender minority Latinx individuals. He observed that members of this community often experience stigma related to many aspects of their lives including culture, language, and immigration status, all of which impact their HIV risk. Dr. Martinez profiled several programs that have demonstrated success, including a number that engage non-traditional partners or that address legal and other needs. He advised stakeholders to focus on affirming models of care; to examine immigration status as a social determinant of health; and to continue to invest in the development and replication of “locally-grown” HIV prevention, treatment, and anti-stigma interventions that have proven effective.
  • Gail Wyatt, PhD, professor and director of the UCLA Sexual Health Program, discussed HIV stigma and disparities among African American women, reminding the audience of the importance of the inclusion of women’s perspectives in HIV prevention, care and treatment, and research. She discussed the impact of trauma on women’s health-seeking behaviors and treatment retention. She emphasized that an effective HIV response requires attention to holistic health, including mental health, to improve outcomes for women living with HIV. She also argued that some health care providers need to be re-educated about African American women given that many have biases about Black women that may hinder their delivery of effective health care services.
  • Cecilia Chung, co-director of programs and policy at the Transgender Law Center, shared her personal story as an Asian transgender woman living with HIV and discussed the power of personal storytelling to change hearts. She remarked, “Storytelling can help us get past differences, stigmas, and biases, and humanize individuals.” Being able to confidently tell one’s story affects the listener and also empowers the storyteller as they move forward on their path as a person living with HIV.

Dr. Eugene McCray, Director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, closed the session, thanking the participants from across the nation and the more than 500 of them who had shared results of their work with others in sessions, poster presentations, and exhibits during the conference. He noted that CDC was pleased to have been able to share more details of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan through several plenary session addresses and in a community engagement session. Implementing that Plan, he observed, will require ongoing dialogue and collaboration. With the powerful tools now available, the insights that data offer, leadership from all sectors, and community-driven and -developed plans, Dr. McCray indicated that he was confident that the nation could achieve the goal of reducing new HIV infections by 90% in ten years.

To view all or part of this plenary session, view CDC’s National Prevention Information Network video of Wednesday’s plenary session on their Facebook page .

Webinar: Molecular HIV Surveillance (PWN-USA, 2019)

PWN’s Barb Cardell’s webinar on Molecular HIV Surveillance and its implications for marginalized communities living with HIV, including intersections with HIV criminalization.

New report from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law states that discrimination and punitive laws hamper the global HIV response

Bad laws and discrimination undermining AIDS response

AMSTERDAM, July 22 – Discrimination against vulnerable and marginalized communities is seriously hampering the global effort to tackle the HIV epidemic according to a groundbreaking new report by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Despite more people than ever before having access to antiretroviral treatment, the new report emphasizes that governments must take urgent action to ensure rights-based responses to HIV and its co-infections (tuberculosis and viral hepatitis). The new report comes on the eve of the biannual global AIDS conference, which is taking place in Amsterdam.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law – an independent commission convened by UNDP on behalf of UNAIDS – operates with the goal of catalyzing progress around laws and policies that impact people affected by HIV. In 2012, the Commission highlighted how laws stand in the way of progress on AIDS while citing how to institutionalize laws and policies that promote human rights and health. The 2018 supplement to the Commission’s original report assesses new challenges and opportunities for driving progress on HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis through evidence and rights-based laws and policies.

“Progress on tackling the AIDS epidemic shows that when we work together we can save lives and empower those at risk,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, the Director of Health and HIV at UNDP. “However, the new report is also a warning that unless governments get serious about tackling bad laws, the overall AIDS response will continue to be undermined and we will fail those who are left behind.”

For the past six years, the Global Commission has made clear how marginalized groups are continually left behind in the global HIV response. Men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people and sex workers face stigma, discrimination and violence that prevents their ability to receive care, and LGBT populations are still under attack in many countries around the world.

Young women and adolescent girls are also uniquely affected by HIV and are not receiving adequate care. In 2015, adolescent girls and young women comprised 60 percent of those aged 15 to 24 years living with HIV and almost the same percentage of new HIV infections were among this cohort. Sexual and reproductive health care, including HIV testing and treatment, have consistently been kept out of the hands of the women and girls who need them.

“Global politics are changing, and repressive laws and policies are on the rise,” said Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia. “In recent years, political trends have negatively impacted the global HIV response: civic space has shrunk, migrants don’t have access to health care, and funding has dropped.”

The report warns that shrinking civil society space due to government crackdowns is hampering the HIV response as marginalized groups are seeing key health services cut off. The fight against HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis will only be won if civil society is empowered and able to provide services, mobilize for justice and hold governments accountable.

“In the wake of the ongoing global refugee crisis, borders have tightened and access to health services has been restricted for millions of migrants – exactly the opposite of what is needed,” said Dr. Shereen El Feki, Vice-Chair of the Commission. “Condemning people who have left their homes to seek safety strips them of their human rights and in the process increases their vulnerability to HIV and its co-infections.”

Refugees and asylum seekers are often at high risk of HIV and overlapping infections like tuberculosis, but harsh laws restrict health care access. Laws must change to ensure that everyone, no matter where they are from, can receive quality health services. The world is also still off track in funding responses to HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis: in 2015 – the same year that countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its pledge to leave no one behind – donor funding for AIDS fell by 13 percent. Sadly the small uptick in donor funding for HIV in 2017 is at best an anomaly.

Despite these challenges, UNDP together with its UN and civil society partners have helped 89 countries revise their laws to protect people’s health and rights since 2012. Successes include:

·         HIV criminalization laws have been repealed in Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Mongolia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and at least two US states.

·         Leaders are taking steps to address gender inequities to bolster the rights of women and girls who are disproportionately affected by HIV: Tunisia recently passed a law to end violence against women in public and private life, and Jordan and Lebanon have strengthened legislation on marital rape.

·         Access to health care is being prioritized with emphasis on emerging illnesses that target people vulnerable to HIV, including Portugal instituting universal access to hepatitis C treatment in 2015, and France following suit in 2016. A court ruling in India led the Government of India to change its policy on who is eligible for tuberculosis treatment.

·         Governments are taking steps to protect the rights of vulnerable groups: Canada, Colombia, Jamaica, Norway and Uruguay have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis and Jamaica erased the criminal records of low-level drug offenders.

The success and sustainability of the global HIV response will be determined in large part by urgent action on laws and policies. The Commission calls on governments and leaders around the world to institute effective laws and policies that protect and promote the rights of people affected by HIV and its co-infections. Since 2012, there have been positive changes in transforming laws and policies, and advancements in science that make it possible to further accelerate progress. The future will be determined by legal environments that drive universal health and human dignity.

Media contact:

In Geneva: Sarah Bel, Communications Specialist,, Tel: +41 79 934 1117

In New York: Sangita Khadka, Communications Specialist, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support,; +1 212 906 5043

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is an independent body, convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on behalf of the Programme Coordinating Board of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Additional information is available at

Published in UNDP website on July 22, 2018

FOCUS ON EECA: Is Belarus the worst country in the world for HIV criminalisation?

Photo: Representatives of People PLUS at the Gomel Regional Court
Our EECA hub, the Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA), part of the GNP+ family, found that between January 2015 and June 2017, 128 criminal cases had been prosecuted under Article 157, Belarus’ overly broad HIV-specific criminal law.

The highest number of cases in the country were reported in the Gomel region. Between 2012 and 2016, 38 cases were reported. But in the first half of 2017 alone, at least 50 cases had been filed before the courts.

The vast majority of the cases involve people in heterosexual relationships. The law is understood and applied in a way that a person living with HIV not only has a duty to disclose, but also a duty to not place another person at risk of acquiring HIV. While some cases brought to the courts involve allegations of non-disclosure, a large number of cases are between couples of different HIV status, where both parties were aware of HIV in the relationship, and the HIV-negative partner consented to sex.

Charges are laid by the state and are regardless of the partner’s desire to prosecute and regardless of whether protective measures were taken by the person living with HIV, such as using a condom or being on treatment with a low or undetectable viral load. 

Cases typically commence when health care providers hear that an HIV-negative person is in a sexual relationship with a person living with HIV, or when a pregnancy is involved. In order to be charged, all that is required is for the person living with HIV should know their HIV status and be registered with the state for HIV services.

As per community reports, people living with HIV are not getting the proper treatment, care and support that they need because of the legal barriers that Article 157 creates in the lives of people living with HIV.

In practice, the law in Belarus keeps people who learn anonymously of their HIV status from accessing treatment, education and counselling because people in Belarus can know about their HIV status and not be registered. Without being formally aware of the presence of HIV, then a person can avoid is not criminally liable. When people face the threat of criminalisation, ignorance of the diagnosis of HIV can be the most effective legal protection. 

Crucially, people who are not registered as living with HIV with the state do not receive antiretroviral treatment and therefore endanger themselves and their sexual partners.

Building the case against criminalisation on the ground

People PLUS is a public association representing people living with HIV in Belarus.

It provides counselling to clients/patients – helping them to “correctly” answer questions and complain against forced examination during epidemiological investigations from the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This has been a positive experience with, over the past month, two refusals to initiate criminal cases.

In the Gomel region – where the highest number of cases under Article 157 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus are being reported – People PLUS have held meetings with the heads of the Epidemiological Department – the “sources” of initiating criminal cases in the region.

An agreement was reached, that without violating guidelines (according to a Ministerial Agreement the Epidemiological Department has to send cases of transmission to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for further investigation), the people under investigation will be immediately provided with People PLUS contacts in order to obtain advice on how to protect themselves during an investigation.

As a result, there was a 40% decrease in the number of criminal prosecutions in the country (19 for the 1st quarter of 2018) and 49% for the Gomel region (12 for the first quarter of 2018), compared to 2017.

People PLUS notes that in the criminal laws of other countries there is the possibility of a person living with HIV to be released from criminal liability if they disclose and receive consent from another person and/or took appropriate measures to greatly reduce the risk of transmission. The application of this rule, as prescribed in the law, will protect the rights and interests of people living with HIV in Belarus. Though ultimately, this is not enough to counteract the damage to the HIV response caused by criminalisation.

A proposal on introducing similar amendments to Article 157 put forward by People PLUS was discussed at a recent meeting of the Parliamentarian Commission on Health, Physical Culture, Family and Youth Policy. The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus sent a letter to the Parliament in support of the initiative. The Commission decided to submit it for discussion in the autumn session of the Parliament.

People PLUS have arranged a meeting with the Chairman of the Gomel Regional Court, S.M. Shevtsov, in order to reduce the number of ongoing cases and to get support to further changes in legislation.

Parliamentary hearings are expected to take place in Autumn 2018.

Download the EECA Regional Criminalisation Report produced by EWNA on behalf of HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE here

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Canadian study finds that fear of prosecution deters some men from testing

Fear of Prosecution Over HIV Non-Disclosure Reduces HIV-Negative MSM Testing

According to a recently published study, fear of prosecution over HIV non-disclosure was reported to reduce HIV testing willingness by a minority of HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM).

Even though HIV transmission risk is low with effective antiretroviral therapy (ART), non-disclosure criminal prosecutions among gay, bisexual and other MSM are increasing. Because reduced testing may decrease the impact of HIV ‘test and treat’ strategies, researchers aimed to quantify the potential impact of non-disclosure prosecution on HIV testing and transmission among MSM.

Researchers recruited 150 HIV-negative MSM attending an HIV and primary care clinic in Toronto from September 2010–June 2012. Eligible participants included males 16 years or older, HIV-negative patients, and those that had sex with another man in the previous 12 months.

Participants completed an audio computer-assisted self-interview questionnaire that incorporated demographic and sexual behavior characteristics. HIV-negative participants were asked whether concern over non-disclosure prosecution altered the likelihood of HIV testing. Answers were based on a 5-point Likert scale that ranged from much less likely to much more likely to be tested.

Responses were characterized utilizing cross-tabulations and bivariate logistic regressions, while flowcharts modeled how changes in HIV testing behaviour impacted HIV transmission rates controlling for ART use, condom use and HIV status disclosure.

Findings concluded that 129 HIV-negative participants answered the question about concern of prosecution affecting HIV-testing decisions. Seven (5.4%) were much less likely to get tested, 2 (1.6%) were less likely to get tested, 90 (69.8%) reported no change, 11 (8.5%) were more likely to get tested and 14 (10.9%) were much more likely to get tested.

A total of 7% (9/124) were less or much less likely to be testing due to concern over future prosecution. There was no obvious socio/sexual demographic characteristics associated with decreased willingness of HIV testing to due concern.

Researchers estimated that this 7% reduction in testing could cause an 18.5% increase in community HIV transmission and that 73% is driven by unmet needs of HIV-positive undiagnosed MSM individuals.

“This reduction has the potential to significantly increase HIV transmission at the community level which has important public health implications,” study authors said in the study. “There are also great concerns surrounding how negative, crime-related framing of media reports and discourse surrounding HIV criminalization cases could deter HIV testing and increase HIV stigma and discrimination. Hence, HIV criminalization laws could also make disclosure and/or condom use conversations even harder.”

Study limitations include the fact that a clinic-based recruitment was used, which could lead to selection bias with respect to MSM seeking primary care. There was also not sufficient variability in the outcome in order to carry out a multivariable analysis.

Even though the full impact of non-disclosure laws are unclear, decreasing the population on ART through reduction in HIV testing will not reduce transmissions. Future studies are needed to determine the awareness and knowledge of HIV criminalization laws among HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals. It’s also unclear if never having had a positive HIV test would be a legitimate argument against possible future prosecution.

The study, “Prosecution of non-disclosure of HIV status: Potential impact on HIV testing and transmission among HIV-negative men who have sex with men” was published February 2018 in PLOS One.

Published in MD Magazine on April 1, 2018

Australia: Interview with David Kernohan, CEO of the WA Aids Council, on U=U and law reform in Western Australia

How can we change the laws regarding HIV transmission & criminal offences in WA?

The conviction of one & charging of another HIV+ individual in Western Australia with recklessly causing grievously bodily harm by transmitting HIV to another individual has left many in the HIV+ communities concerned, what  does this mean for them, their past and the way in which people perceive them?

Dean Arcuri continues his conversation with CEO of the WA Aids Council.

This episode of The Informer aired on JOY 94.9 on 14th March 2018

Published on JOY 94.9 on 14th March 2018

Malawi: Police officers urged to stop criminalising sex-workers due to their HIV status

Malawi law enforcers urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers over HIV/AIDS status

LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-The Malawi Police Services’ (MPS) officers have been urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers due to their HIV and AIDS status when they come to conflict with the law.

This reduce cases of defaulting the drug prolonged-life, ARVs when are on remand cell as they become uncooperative with the law-enforcers

The call will also enhance cordial relationship men in uniform they have with sex-worker as they harbor criminals when playing their trade.

In an exclusive interview with The Maravi Post in the sidelines of World AIDSDAY that falls on December 1st yearly, Priest Mpemba, Kanengo Police Model station HIV/AIDS Coordinator, said time was ripe for officers handle sex-workers in line with human rights principles.

Mpemba who is also DNA Forensic Investigator observed that some law-enforcers criminalize sex-workers during sweeping exercises due to their serial status.

The HIV/AIDS coordinator added that the laws of land do not criminalize sex-work but the act of being conflict with the constitution including robbery and violence among others.

On legalization of sex work in the country, the DNA Forensic Investigators said the matter was a policy issue which the county’s leadership must trade carefully regarding to how the society perceives sex workers.

With extensive sensitization the station is taking on HIV/AIDS, Mpemba expects a cordial relationship between the police and the public in ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country.

On skills handling suspects living with HIV and AIDS, the coordinator said that the station expects fewer lawsuits.

“This year’s World AIDS DAY commemoration must focus as well on how sex-workers are being treated in the society. They are into that trade with various reasons but their rights must be respected as human beings. This is the reason the station using its own resources has been into intensive sensitization on the virus.

“Our officers should also treat suspects especially those living with the virus with dignity as human that they continue taking medication when are on remand. This will reduce drug defaulters and ease lawsuits the station receives,” says Mpemba.

Speaking Friday on World AIDS Day, at the Blantyre Youth Centre The Minister of Health and Population, Atupele Muluzi said that right to health is a fundamental human right, everybody has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

This year’s commemoration was under the theme ‘Right to Health: Access to Quality HIV Prevention and Treatment Services”.

Before the function, the Minister opened Umodzi Family Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. The centre will help facilitate HIV testing and treatment, TB screaming and offer reproductive health services.

AIDS is no longer the high-profile public health menace it once was thanks to the discovery in 2011 that antiretroviral treatment can not only suppress HIV in the bloodstream and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but also, some experts predict, eventually end the epidemic.

Published in the Maravi Post on Dec 3, 2017

Australia: Amendment to New South Wales Public Health Act, with its punitive focus on STIs transmission, risks undermining the Act intent

Is one person to blame if another gets a sexually transmissible infection (STI)? In most Australian states, if you have certain STIs, you have a legal responsibility to notify your potential sexual partners.

The NSW government last week passed an amendment to the state’s Public Health Act that increased the associated penalties by doubling the maximum fines and adding potential jail time.

Section 79 (1) of the Act now reads:

A person who knows that he or she has a notifiable disease, or a scheduled medical condition, that is sexually transmissible is required to take reasonable precautions against spreading the disease or condition.

Maximum penalty: 100 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.

In addition to increasing potential penalties, the amendment removed an earlier provision mandating disclosure of STI status, replacing it instead with the need for “reasonable precautions”.

This is a positive change for the law that reflects the best available research on STIs and transmission. Yet its coupling with increased penalties has sent a mixed message about sexual health in the state.

Further, the idea that punishing STI exposure or transmission will decrease rates of infection is not supported by global research on HIV, and there is no reason to believe this would be any different for other STIs.

Laws across Australia

Health law is pretty complex and mainly left up to each state and territory. Generally speaking, across Australia you risk some kind of punishment for knowingly infecting another person with what are often referred to as “notifiable diseases”. This list covers a range of infections but STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV, shigella, donovanosis, and hepatitis a, b and c.

In some states, notably New South WalesTasmania and Queensland, it’s an offence just to knowingly expose someone to an infection, even if they don’t actually become infected. While in other states, like Victoria and South Australia, health acts do not specify penalties for exposure or transmission, referring instead to the respective crime acts. For the most part, curable STIs do not rank as serious enough for criminal prosecution.

What is unique about NSW is that it uses the Public Health Act to single out STIs and describe specific punishments above and beyond other infections.

Although laws in NSW seem unusually fixated on STIs, the move away from mandated disclosure in favour of “reasonable precautions” is a positive step. While disclosure may seem sensible on the surface, it’s not the most effective at preventing transmission. This is because disclosure requires that someone be aware of an infection and many people with an STI don’t realise they are infected. For example, it’s estimated nearly three quarters of chlamydia infections in young people in Australia go undiagnosed every year. Relying on disclosure can, therefore, give people a false sense of security.

There are other more effective strategies than disclosure for protecting someone from infection. With HIV, for example, successful treatment means the risks of transmitting the virus to another person are virtually nonexistent. Under the amended NSW law, treatment could quite rightly be considered a reasonable precaution to avoid transmitting HIV.

But the state’s Public Health Act is relevant to all STIs, not just HIV. For other infections, it’s less clear what precautions might be seen as reasonable. Condoms can offer protection from some infections, but not all, and they are rarely used for oral sex. Given more and more chlamydia and gonorrhoea cases are identified in the throat, this is potentially problematic.

Punishment doesn’t help

Every year, there are over 100,000 STI diagnoses across Australia, the vast majority of which can be cured using antibiotics. Ultimately, public health initiatives aim to reduce new cases and lower the overall amount of infection.

It’s been suggested by public health experts that criminalising transmission can undermine public health efforts by reinforcing stigma and causing people to delay accessing testing, treatment and care.

And in a review of legal conditions around the world, researchers found that there was no link between laws criminalising HIV transmission and lower infection rates. The review also found such laws disproportionately impacted those who may experience marginalisation, such as young people and women.

In reality, situations where an individual recklessly or wilfully places another at risk of an STI are incredibly rare and health officials have many options besides punishment.

As part of their core work, doctors and clinics counsel on and work with people to prevent onward transmission, and in some cases public health orders can be used to compel people to, among other actions, attend counselling and refrain from activities that might spread an infection. In the most extreme situations, criminal charges can be brought on the basis of grievous bodily harm.

Overall, a special and punitive focus to STIs risks further entrenching stigma and undermining the Act’s intent, which is to manage and reduce infection. If there is any hope of reducing STIs in Australia, laws must aim to foster an environment where people feel comfortable, able and willing to get tested and engaged with their sexual health.

While it seems unlikely a rush to prosecute those who expose others to STIs will spring up from this amendment, the law as it is currently written leaves open that rather serious possibility. In NSW and across Australia, health law consistently places the burden of prevention on one partner. In an ideal world, all parties to a sexual encounter take “reasonable precautions” to protect themselves and each other from infection.

Africa: Moving towards revolutionising approaches to HIV criminalisation

“We have all agreed with the Sustainable Development Goal of ending HIV and Tuberculosis by 2030. We cannot get there while we are arresting the same people we are supposed to ensure are accessing treatment and living positively,” said Dr Ruth Labode, a member of Parliament from Zimbabwe opening remarks at a two-day global meeting co-hosted by the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and HIV Justice Worldwide (HJWW) on 24 and 25 April 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa, which focused on “Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission”.

The meeting was attended by advocates, civil society organisations, lawyers, judges, national human rights institutions and Members of Parliament from all over Africa and with some delegates from North America. Central to these deliberations was the draconian provisions within numerous HIV-specific laws being developed as government responses to the prevention and control of the HIV epidemic. The good intentions inherent in these pieces of legislation are often marred with provisions, which criminalise people based on their HIV status. Punitive provisions relating to ‘compulsory testing’, ‘involuntary partner notification’, ‘non-disclosure’ and ‘transmission’ of HIV are often cited, fueling stigma against people living with HIV.

The common theme binding these deliberations, was the negative impact of HIV criminalisation and the stories that were shared by colleagues.  The increasing trend of imposing criminal sanctions against people living with HIV, had resulted in adverse impact on public health outcomes for certain populations, especially women. While reinforcing stigma, HIV criminalisation impedes access to sexual and reproductive health services such as condoms, HIV testing and treatment. Further, HIV criminalisation discourages HIV-positive women from accessing ante-natal care, which leads to increased maternal and child mortality. The overly broad and vague nature of most HIV specific laws, accompanied by the imposition of criminal sanctions without empirical or scientific support, further underpins the rift between public health goals and the protection of human rights.

Representing the AIDS Legal Network, one of the partners who led the development of the 10 Reasons Why Criminalisation Harms Women, Johanna Kehler mentioned the fact that, “HIV criminalisation and HIV specific laws are often set against a social milieu that is patriarchal, heteronormative and perpetuates gender inequalities and utilises punitive approaches to “correct” imbalances.” She went on to add that these laws ultimately maintain and widen the divide between public health needs and human rights obligations.

Laurel 1“Most prosecutions globally involve no or negligible risk of transmission. Among the thousands of known prosecutions, cases where it was clear, much less proven beyond reasonable doubt, that an individual planned on or wanted to infect another person with HIV, are exceedingly rare. People are being convicted of crimes contrary to the best public health advice, but also contrary to scientific and medical evidence”, said Dr Laurel Sprague of the HIV Justice Network, who has since become the Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+).

During the meeting, various organisations shared their experiences around litigating these matters and community advocacy mounted to reform problematic laws or specific draconian provisions. Cases from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Niger showcased that challenges were experiences in most contexts.

The Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS (UGANET), together with other advocates and activists, continue to challenge the Ugandan law and constitutionality of the criminalisation provisions contained in the HIV Prevention and Control Act of 2014. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) spoke to the extensive work that they furthered in Malawi, which included a focus on arbitrary arrests and dentition. Malawi has taken the centre stage where HIV criminalisation is concerned, as they are currently in the process of tabling a decade-old Draft HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill, which contains draconian provisions around HIV criminalisation.

Amplifying the voice of survivors of HIV criminalisation, the meeting was privileged to engage with Kerry Thomas via telephone from a state correctional facility in Boise, Idaho in the United States of America. Mr Thomas, who was prosecuted for HIV non-disclosure and the sentence that he is serving, reinforced the unjust nature of these laws. Mr Thomas is currently serving his eighth year out of a 30-year sentence for non- disclosure to his ex-partner, despite there being no proof of transmission and the fact that he had consensual and protected sex. His appeal on the unconstitutionality of Idaho’s non-disclosure law, was overturned in the District courts in 2016.

The meeting concluded with very strong calls for everyone to joining the global HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement and organisations committed to utilise their existing resources to galvanise advocacy focusing on ending HIV criminalisation.

Participants agreed that there was a need to focus on the inter-sectionalities within the HIV criminalisation discourse, as well as a need for coordination and collaboration amongst legislators, members of the judiciary, parliamentarians, health care workers and civil society organisations to further advocacy related to this issue.

The participants also agreed that transformative approaches to HIV criminalisation, require both legal and social reforms, such as sensitisation of community members and the media. ARASA has committed to working with colleagues in developing a timeline of key events and advocacy opportunities, at which colleagues could participate.

Revolutionising approaches to Criminalisation of HIV Non-disclosure, Exposure and Transmission was supported by a grant from the Robert Carr civil society networks Fund.

Since its inception, ARASA has played an active role in addressing HIV criminalisation in the region and globally. ARASA has strengthened the capacity of civil society on the issue and supported partners to work with the media, parliamentarians, members of the judiciary and lawyers to address HIV criminalisation.

To read more about the meeting, follow #Decrim4Health on Facebook and Twitter. You can also view a gallery of photos taken during the meeting here.