World Aids Day has highlighted worrying trends in Western and Central Europe: the total number of people living with HIV continues to grow and there is strong evidence of resurgent HIV epidemics among men who have sex with men in Western Europe.
There’s a corresponding upward trend in the number of governments who have laws, who are implementing laws, or who are considering laws which criminalise HIV transmission. Clearly, someone out there believes that legislation prevents transmission. Who knows, they maybe think it offers some kind of cure.
In Sweden, for example, there’s the 2004 Communicable Diseases Act. Simply summarised, if an HIV-positive individual does not inform a prospective sexual partner that s/he is HIV-positive, then sanctions may be imposed which ultimately result in forced isolation.
Jan Albert, Professor of Infectious Diseases and chief physician at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm says, “There are many reasons for neglecting to inform sexual partners about HIV status. None, or very few individuals, have had the intent to transmit HIV, which is how these acts are often described by the media”.
Since 2010, IPPF’s Swedish member association (RFSU) has been partnering with other bodies to educate and inform politicians, judges, lawyers and other key decision-makers on the negative impact of the current legislation on the HIV response. The goal of this 2-year project is to change Swedish criminal law and Communicable Diseases Act as well as the application of legislation and regulations surrounding People Living with HIV in Sweden.
“The fact that we have laws and administration of justice that, in our opinion, are counterproductive when working on the prevention of HIV, is particularly alarming because of the critical juncture we are at”, says Åsa Regnér, Executive Director of RFSU: “More people than ever are living with HIV in Sweden and young people’s awareness of HIV is low. We hope that this day will give the issue of criminalization of HIV a lot more attention.”
According to Vicky Claeys (Director of the IPPF European Network), “Criminalization is not the answer to protect the general population. On the contrary, I think it can only have negative effects such as being afraid to get tested, serious misuse of the possibility for prosecution and stigma and discrimination for those living with HIV. I am not sure who the winner is here.”