Professor Weait is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Portsmouth. He has an academic background in law, criminology, and socio-legal studies. He has worked at Oxford, Keele, The Open University, and at Birkbeck, University of London, where he was one of the founding members of the School of Law. He is also a member of the Editorial Board for Hepatology, Medicine & Policy.
Professor Weait’s research interests lie in the fields of law, human rights and public health, specifically the impact of criminal laws and criminal justice enforcement practices on HIV prevention and on the lives both of people living with HIV, and of those who belong to key (or “at risk”) populations. He has published widely in this area, and has contributed to a number of international initiatives aimed at minimising the adverse impact of such laws and practices.These include the Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2012), a number of projects for the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), and work with the Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN). He has a particular interest in public health and legal culture in the Nordic and Scandinavian countries.
HIV Stigma and the Criminal Law
December 1st marks World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. Matthew Weait, from the University of Portsmouth, writes here on how stigma and the law affect the lives of people with HIV.
Image credit: Edwin Bernard and the HIV Justice Network
Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. According to the latest available data from UNAIDS, 1.1 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2015, there are just over 2 million new HIV infections globally every year, and just under 40 million people are living with the virus. These are depressing figures, particularly in light of the advances in our understanding of HIV, its prevention and treatment, the laudable rise in the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) (up from 7.5 million to 18 million in the past five years), and the massive impact of ART on reducing the likelihood of onward transmission.
Despite the fact that the life expectancy of people on ART has improved significantly, especially for those who receive a timely diagnosis, and that there exist effective ways of avoiding infection, the stigma associated with HIV remains. The impact of this stigma, and the associated discrimination which people living with HIV (PLHIV) and those in key populations are subjected to, is substantial and undermines the work being done to promote access to health and other services critical to curtailing the epidemic.
In some countries, such as Canada, the very fact of non-disclosure of status can, irrespective of risk, turn otherwise consensual sex into sexual assault. And where transmission does in fact occur (which is more likely when someone does not know their status and is not on treatment than when they do know and are), PLHIV are at risk of extended custodial punishment, even if it is not their intention to cause harm.
These laws serve no public health purpose and, because it is typically only those that have a positive diagnosis who may be found criminally liable, do nothing to incentivise the testing which is a pre-requisite of treatment and care.
It is not only those already living with HIV who suffer from the enforcement of punitive laws. The social opprobrium associated with and / or criminalization of transgender people, homosexuality, sex work, and injecting drug use in many countries of the world (including nations with high HIV prevalence) reinforces stigma, makes it harder to support those at heightened risk of acquiring the virus, and in fact makes infection more likely.
Irrespective of any moral or ethical questions there may be about HIV transmission, exposure, or non-disclosure, it is incontrovertible that the criminal law makes the elimination of HIV harder. If we are going to end the epidemic, this needs to be recognised and acted on as a priority. If not, more people will become infected, more people will get sick, more people will have a lower quality of life – even when virally suppressed – and more people will die.
ver historia personal en: www.cerasale.com.ar [dado de baja por la Cancillería Argentina por temas políticos, propio de la censura que rige en nuestro medio]//
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