More Countries Make Spreading HIV a Crime

hiv crimeThe Associated Press reported that an increasing number of countries worldwide are making spreading HIV a crime. In a report released by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, 58 countries have laws that criminalize people with HIV who deliberately or unwillingly transmitted the virus to other people, while another 33 countries are considering similar laws to pass.

Since 2005, seven countries in West Africa have passed such laws criminalizing HIV transmission. In Benin, the simple act of exposing others to the virus is a crime, whether or not transmission occurred. Meanwhile, intentional transmission of the virus can lead to life imprisonment in Tanzania.

Many of these HIV transmission laws in Africa were passed after a meeting in Chad in 2004, which was sponsored by the US Agency for International Development, which ironically is the world’s biggest fund provider for AIDS programs. This meeting was also attended by members of the United Nations.

The criminalization of HIV transmission is also applied in developed countries. In the United States, 32 of its states have such laws, with thousands of people being charged simply because they have spread HIV whether through sex or other unusual means such as sneezing. Meanwhile, 16 people in the United Kingdom since 2001 have been prosecuted for spreading the virus.

Other countries without HIV transmission laws apply existing laws to criminalize people with HIV. A woman in Canada was charged in 2005 with criminal negligence and aggravated assault for passing HIV while pregnant to her baby.

She did not tell her doctors that she had the virus and did not receive medications necessary to prevent the virus from infecting her child. She was sentenced to a six-month conditional sentence, as well as three years of probation.

Health officials fear that this trend could weaken what has gained in fighting the AIDS pandemic, adding that these laws could result in forced testing and drive the epidemic underground as people hide their HIV status, thus allowing the virus to spread unnoticed. About 33 million people are estimated to have HIV, while nearly 3 million people are newly infected each year.

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