July 21, 2014
Written by Melissa Davey in Melbourne
Coag commits to remove barriers to HIV treatment, prevention and care in legal, political and social policies.
This post originally appeared in The Guardian. View the original post here.
Australia’s only HIV-specific law that criminalises the intentional transmission of the virus will be amended, the Victorian health minister, David Davis, announced to a standing ovation of HIV researchers and advocates at a satellite event to the AIDS 2014 symposium in Melbourne.
His comments came as the Council of Australian Governments released the AIDS 2014 legacy statement on Sunday, committing to take all necessary action to remove barriers to HIV treatment, prevention and care across legal, political, economic and social policies.
Davis said amending section 19A of Victoria’s Crimes Act would be consistent with achieving the legacy goals agreed to by federal, state and territory governments.
The act currently states “intentionally causing a very serious disease” is a criminal offence in Victoria – with “very serious disease” defined exclusively to mean HIV infection.
“We have committed to review and amend this section to ensure it is non-discriminatory, in consultation with HIV medical, research and support communities,” Davis said.
“That does not mean there will be no occasion where it will be seen as a criminal action. But the view is to amend this section to ensure it is non-discriminatory. That will entail undertaking the necessary legislative work necessary to do that.”
He said that section of the act had been used only once to make a prosecution, and it was unclear whether that case would be reviewed when the section was amended.
The president of an HIV support organisation Living Positive Victoria, Ian Muchamore, said he was surprised by the announcement.
“This is something we have been advocating for for many years, and we strongly welcome it,” he said.
“It is wrong to to have an unfair law that is HIV-specific. There’s no reason to single HIV out over anything else, and intentional HIV cases should be dealt with under other existing criminal laws that are used when someone intentionally causes harm.”
Muchamore said the act prevented people from getting tested because if they did not know they had HIV, they believed they could not be criminalised. He also said the act added to stigma around people living with HIV.
“What we’re all trying to do is increase the number of people receiving HIV testing and who are receiving treatment, because treatment means they then go on to have undetectable viral loads which effectively renders them non-infectious,” he said.
“We can’t address the underlying financial and legal barriers to addressing HIV, and reach the federal government’s target of eliminating new cases of HIV in Australia by 2020, without this section of the law also being addressed.”
In Victoria the government’s chief health officer also had powers to order people receive counselling and even be detained if they were seen as a threat to the public, Muchamore said, adding that this public health response was often more effective.
“We know criminalising cases of deliberate HIV transmission has not led to rates of transmission going down and testing rates going up.”
The federal health minister, Peter Dutton, said as the legacy statement was announced that Australia was at a critical point in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“We need to work together to take advantage of the progress we have made to understand, prevent and treat this disease.”
Earlier in July, Dutton announced that a restriction on the sale of HIV home-tests in Australia would be lifted and HIV antiretroviral drugs would be available through community pharmacies as part of Australia’s goal of significantly reducing HIV transmission.
Retired high court judge and academic Michael Kirby said he was glad the act would be amended.
“While only one person was prosecuted, symbolically, it [the section of the act] is a bad thing,” he said.
“It is wonderful Victoria is going to reform the law on this matter. “But what is important is that the message should go to Africa, to Russia and other countries where these [discriminatory] laws exist – and we should not be polite in the delivering of that message.”