Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Washington Post reports that an increasing number of countries worldwide are making spreading HIV a crime, according to a new report from the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Thirty-two states in the US have alerady criminalized HIV transmission. Maria Cheng writes,
Health officials fear the trend could undermine gains made in fighting the AIDS pandemic and provoke a surge in cases. Globally, about 33 million people are thought to have HIV and nearly 3 million people are newly infected every year.
"If the law is applied badly, this could set us back and do incredible damage," said Paul de Lay, an AIDS expert at UNAIDS, who was not involved in the report.
De Lay said the laws could result in forced testing and drive the epidemic underground as people hide their HIV status, allowing the virus to spread unnoticed.
According to Planned Parenthood, 58 countries worldwide have laws that criminalize HIV or use existing laws to prosecute people for transmitting the virus. Another 33 countries are considering similar legislation.
Since 2005, seven countries in West Africa have passed HIV laws. In Benin, simply exposing others to HIV is a crime, even if transmission doesn't occur. And in Tanzania, intentional transmission of the virus can lead to life imprisonment.
Many of the laws in Africa were passed after a meeting in Chad in 2004 sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the world's biggest funder of AIDS programs, and attended by U.N. officials.
"The U.N. was definitely remiss to allow this to happen," said Kevin Osborne, a senior HIV adviser at IPPF and one of the report's authors.
De Lay said UNAIDS found out about the meeting only after it happened.
But poor countries aren't the only ones using these laws.
In the U.S., 32 states have laws criminalizing HIV transmission. Experts estimate that thousands of people have been charged across the country with spreading HIV.
Since 2001, 16 people in the United Kingdom have been prosecuted for spreading HIV.