(De)CRIMINALISING transmission: The preference of public health approaches

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28.02.14 Blog Image“In addition to HIV, a new virus had been detected that was sweeping the world. It was HIL. Highly ineffective laws”

These were the words declared by Michael Kirby (who would be later appointed as an Australian High Court Justice) at a high level meeting in the mid 1980’s addressing HIV responses.

Almost 30 years later the United National Global Commission on HIV and the Law concluded that any laws criminalising HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure are counter-productive and should be repealed. The Commission has also reinforced the message that national laws should facilitate and enable effective responses to HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

Criminalising HIV transmission harms our public health and prevention efforts

Public health responses which support and empower people to change behaviour are best equipped to eliminate onward HIV transmission. There is no empirical evidence showing that criminalising HIV transmission and/or disclosure stops HIV transmission.

QPP have written a two page paper outlining the risks of criminalising transmission https://www.qpp.org.au/resources/hiv-disclosure-law. To summarise, criminalising transmission contradicts the most essential prevention message that every person has a responsibility to take all reasonable precautions to avoid contracting HIV. Criminalisation, by its very nature creates a culture of blame, rather than shared responsibility.

HIV is a health issue not a legal issue

It’s not just about HIV prevention; it’s about the rights of PLHIV too. The right of PLHIV to have access to adequate healthcare and freedom from discrimination. Laws and policy need to honour the commitments our government has declared in human rights instruments.

Australia has been a party to numerous international HIV human rights declarations for PLHIV and those vulnerable to HIV transmission. An example of one of these agreements is the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This instrument declared that human rights is key in reducing transmission but also its necessity in addressing stigma and discrimination for PLHIV.
QPP as a part of the POZ action collective have identified the criminalisation of HIV to be one of four main priorities in the next coming year. To read the position statement on criminalisation and the other priority areas please see http://napwa.org.au/2013/10/22/poz-action.