Scientists refute HIV transmission theories, criminalisation laws

More than 20 world leading researchers have launched an evidence-based consensus that systematically refutes theories that lead to criminalisation of HIV transmission, saying that laws are driven by poor appreciation of the science around the disease.

BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE in Amsterdam, Netherlands

While addressing delegates at the UNAids International Conference, the experts said they had developed a consensus statement describing the best medical and scientific evidence around HIV transmission to inform the justice delivery system.

Nobel Laureate Francise Barre-Sinousi, of the Pasteur Institute and co-author of the consensus, said people living with HIV continued to be accused, arrested, prosecuted and convicted for non-disclosure, possible or perceived exposure or transmission of HIV in cases where no harm was intended. He further said limited understanding of current HIV science reinforces stigma and can lead to miscarriages of justice while undermining efforts to address the HIV epidemic.

International Aids Society president Linda-Gail Bekker said HIV criminalisation laws were ineffective, unwarranted and discriminatory.

“Simply put, HIV criminalisation laws are ineffective, unwarranted and discriminatory, 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,” she said.

The other experts, who prepared the joint statement, are Salim Abdool Karim of Columbia University, Chris Beyrer of John Hopkins University, Pedro Cahn of Buenos Aires University, Peter Godfrey-Faussett of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Julio Montaner of the University of British Columbia.

The statement has been endorsed by the International Aids Society, International Association of Providers of Aids Care, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids and other organisations and scientists. The experts revealed that there is no possibility of HIV transmission through contact with the saliva of an HIV-positive person, including through kissing, biting or spiting.

They also discovered evidence that 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 HIV-positive partner has an undetectable viral load. They also discovered that it is not possible to establish proof of HIV transmission from one individual to another, even with the most advanced scientific tools.

Most African governments have been fingered in violating the rights of people living with HIV and Aids by applying specific laws that mainly focus on HIV criminalisation and ended up misusing other laws despite the evidence against the likelihood of HIV transmission, reflect the perpetuation of ignorance, irrational fear and stigmatisation.

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