Ending unjust HIV criminalization: leave no-one behind.

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Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,913 words
Lexile Measure: 1790L

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In 2010, UNAIDS put forward their bold vision of the "Three Zeros," to envisage a world in which there were zero new infections, zero AIDS deaths and zero discrimination [1]. One form of discrimination against people living with HIV that remains all too common a threat to their lives and wellbeing, as well as to the goal of ending the epidemic, is HIV criminalization. HIV criminalization describes the unjust application of criminal and similar laws to people living with HIV ostensibly based on their HIV status, either via HIV-specific criminal statutes or general criminal or other laws. HIV criminalization laws are almost invariably exceedingly broad--either in their explicit wording or in the way they have been interpreted and applied. Many allow prosecution for acts that constitute no or very little risk by failing to recognize condom use or low viral load, or by criminalizing oral sex, or single acts of breastfeeding, biting, scratching or spitting. These laws--and their enforcement--are often based on myths, misconceptions and plain ignorance about HIV and its modes of transmission. As well as being a human rights issue of global concern, HIV criminalization is a barrier to universal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care [2,3].

UNAIDS is now calling on countries to adopt bold new targets to remove "societal and legal impediments to an enabling environment for HIV services", which includes achieving a goal of fewer than 10% of countries with "punitive laws and policies" [4]. As of 2019, UNAIDS reports that 92 countries have either HIV-specific criminal laws and/or have prosecuted individuals under general laws [4]. In 2020 alone, the HIV Justice Network (HJN) documented at least 90 unjust HIV criminalization cases across 25 countries [5]. Russia and the United States consistently prosecute the highest number of individuals, although a growing number of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) and across sub-Saharan Africa appear, inadvisedly, to be relying on HIV criminalization as a way of being seen to be doing something to address their rising HIV epidemics [5]. Migrants from higher HIV prevalence countries appear to be disproportionately prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws or policies in Canada, Europe and Australasia [6]. We are also seeing a frightening trend of prosecutions being initiated by those working in healthcare or public health without specific complaints. In some cases, police were notified of a person's HIV diagnosis by health authorities, which then became a prompt to investigate the person's relationship with their partner. For example, in Belarus and Uzbekistan there have been prosecutions against people living with HIV for consensual sex with HIV-negative partners, even if their partner has consented and refused to have charges laid. Cases typically commence when healthcare providers hear that an HIV-negative person is in a sexual relationship with a person living with HIV, or when a pregnancy is involved, or when a previously HIV-negative partner tests HIV...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A656303660