September 7, 2018

HIV Criminalization: Science Alone Is Not the Solution

Written by By Arpita Appannagari, M.P.H., and Kate Boulton, J.D., M.P.H.

The Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law was published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society to coincide with the July 2018 International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018). The statement summarizes existing science on certain routes of HIV transmission and treatment, with an eye to encouraging better use of HIV science within the criminal justice system.

Based on a review of existing research literature on the possibility of HIV transmission during a single act of spitting or biting, or of anal, vaginal or oral sex, the authors note that the possibility of HIV transmission varies according to a range of factors including viral load, condom use, and other risk reduction practices. They summarize the research to date that “suggests the possibility of HIV transmission during a single episode of sex, biting or spitting ranges from no possibility to low possibility.” They also reference the positive health impact of modern antiretroviral therapies that have improved the life expectancy of most people living with HIV to a point similar to their HIV-negative counterparts. Finally, they describe how phylogenetic analysis alone cannot establish beyond reasonable doubt either the source or direction of transmission in an HIV criminal prosecution.

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