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End HIV criminalisation

A group of leading HIV experts are calling for “caution to be exercised” when considering criminal charges against people who recklessly spread the disease.

In a consensus statement published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian researchers and scientists — including Professor Sharon Lewin and Professor Andrew Grulich — argue that “criminal cases involving HIV transmission or exposure require that courts correctly comprehend the rapidly evolving science of HIV transmission and the impact of an HIV diagnosis”.

The statement cites scientific evidence that shows the risk of HIV transmission to be negligible if a person is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load. It also claims that HIV isn’t as serious a condition as it used to be: “Most people with HIV are able to commence simple treatment providing them a normal and healthy life expectancy, largely comparable with their HIV-negative peers.”

“Given the limited risk of HIV transmission per sexual act and the limited long-term harms experienced by most people recently diagnosed with HIV, appropriate care should be taken before prosecutions are pursued,” says the statement.

While acknowledging that cases of deliberate transmission of HIV are “extremely unusual”, the group urge authorities to change behaviours through counselling rather than the courts. “Careful attention should be paid to the best scientific evidence on HIV risk and harms, with consideration given to alternatives to prosecution, including public health management.”

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