An international team of 20 prominent medical providers and researchers struck a blow against HIV criminalization with a detailed expert consensus statement in time for AIDS 2018.

“Simply put, HIV criminalization laws are ineffective, unwarranted, and discriminatory,” said co-author Linda-Gail Bekker, MD, of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, and out-going president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), which organizes the international AIDS conferences, in a press release. “In many cases, these misconceived laws exacerbate the spread of HIV by driving people living with and at risk of infection into hiding and away from treatment services.”

The statement stresses that:

There is no possibility of HIV transmission via saliva, including kissing, biting, or spitting.

The risk of transmission from a single act of unprotected sex is very low, and there is no possibility of HIV transmission during vaginal or anal sex when the partner living with HIV has undetectable viral load.

It is not possible to prove HIV transmission from one person to another, even with the most advanced scientific tools.

The consensus statement was published in the scientific Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS). In its detailed report, it notes that such laws also seem to be punitive measures against certain groups of people.

Overall, the detailed report notes that criminalization laws ignore the science while perpetuating ignorance, stigma, and irrational fear.

“It is the hope of the Editors that this document will better inform readers about the reasons why criminalization will not help reduce transmission, but only fuel the epidemic,” wrote JIAS Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Mayer, MD, of Fenway Health in Boston, along with colleagues, in an accompanying editorial. “We therefore hope that governmental authorities will view this Expert Consensus Statement as a resource to better understand the actual rather than the perceived risks posed by exposures to individuals living with HIV, and to create societies that encourage engagement and not fear.”

The report concluded that, “The application of up-to-date scientific evidence in criminal cases has the potential to limit unjust prosecutions and convictions. The authors recommend that caution be exercised when considering prosecution, and encourage governments and those working in legal and judicial systems to pay close attention to the significant advances in HIV science that have occurred over the last three decades to ensure current scientific knowledge informs application of the law in cases related to HIV.”

Read the full consensus statement here.  —EV