New law criminalizing HIV a ‘backwards step’

New law criminalizing HIV a 'backwards step'

HIV peer advocacy group TIM is mad at proposed changes to HIV laws. Flickr/See-ming Lee

Proposed changes to laws around people living with HIV (PLHIV) or an STI are being described as a ‘backward step’.

The New South Wales state government in Australia. is trying to change the Public Health Act. It’s proposing anyone with HIV or an STI who doesn’t take ‘reasonable precautions’ can be sent to prison for up to 6 months and/or fined AU$11,000 (US$8828).

HIV peer advocacy group The Institute of Many (TIM) – Australia’s largest grassroot HIV group – has written to the NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard asking him to reconsider.

‘This change to the Public Health Act may undo the years of great work NSW has done towards ending HIV,’ TIM cofounder Nic Holas told Gay Star News.

‘Given recent numbers which showed an all-time low rates of new HIV notifications, it is vital that NSW moves the fight forward – not backwards, as these punitive measures would do.’

Holas argued that while people who ‘willfully and intentionally’ attempt to infect others with HIV or an STI should be punished, there are plenty of laws in place to do so.

There were also concerns about how police and prosecutors would determine what exactly are ‘reasonable precautions’.

‘Currently, what counts as “reasonable precautions” is determined on a case by case basis by the magistrate,’ Holas wrote.

‘Could it be disclosing your status? Always using condoms? Having an undetectable viral load? All three? We don’t know because it’s terribly unclear.’

‘However, this change means that ANYONE who has HIV or an STI is under threat of this incredibly heavy-handed punishment.

‘This has been proven to actually discourage people from getting tested, and according to the World Health Organisation ‘may actually increase rather decrease HIV transmission’.’

PLHIV are not villians

Leading NSW LGBTI health organization, ACON, argued the proposed changes were ‘grossly disproportionate to the risk of transmission of such a wide range of now treatable conditions’.

‘There needs to be constructive and practical measures to assist people to take responsibility for their sexual health and prevent the spread of STIs,’ ACON said in briefing notes on the issue.

‘The criminalisation of sexual behaviour is counterproductive to the objectives of the Public Health Act.’

NSW is home to Australia’s largest population of men who have sex with men and PLHIV. But the state just recorded a 39% drop in new HIV cases. In the first half of 2017, NSW has the lowest number of new HIV notifications since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Call to action

‘The bottom line is we know People Living with HIV are not villains, but this change to the Public Health Act will fuel stigma, discrimination, and fear,’ Holas said.

‘It’s more of the same awful stuff that has seen us be painted as the bad guys for decades. And we need NSW Health to back down.’

TIM wants people to write to Health Minister Hazzard to ‘politely’ ask him not to change the laws. TIM has created a letter template for people to use.


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