Abolishing routine HIV prosecutions urged
Failing to disclose HIV status should not be prosecuted criminally as a matter of routine because it poses a barrier to receiving proper care, says an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Experts with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS argue that too many Canadians are being prosecuted for failing to disclose their HIV status and exposing their partners to the virus that causes AIDS. "Canada now ranks among the world leaders in the rate of such prosecutions," they write.
“While some aspects of this case may well deserve a full and fair prosecution, there is no evidence that criminal prosecutions for HIV-nondisclosure protect individuals from infection.”
The authors believe that if HIV prosecutions were to cease - except in cases where people have deliberately and callously infected others to inflict harm - more HIV-positive individuals would come forward, get tested and begin therapy.
"Criminalization of HIV exposure stigmatizes and discourages access to HIV education, testing and treatment. And because antiretroviral therapy has become very advanced, it would effectively almost eliminate the risk of HIV transmission from person to person."
Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), has dramatically transformed HIV treatment and prevention. "More recently, it has become clear that as HAART drives the HIV viral load in blood to undetectable levels, the HIV viral load in semen and cervicovaginal fluid also becomes undetectable," reads the article. It cites a recent randomized trial that found a 96 per cent decrease in the risk of HIV transmission when HAART was begun immediately after diagnosis.
The authors believe that in order to remove the stigma of HIV, routine prosecutions need to be abolished, people at high risk of HIV should be encouraged to get tested, and treatment should be initiated immediately with HAART. "The Criminal Code should not further stigmatize or discriminate against those living with HIV," they write.