When Sex is a Crime and Spit is a Dangerous Weapon: The origins, impact and advocacy response to HIV criminal laws

Knowing the history of HIV-specific laws helps us develop effective advocacy efforts.

By Catherine Hanssens and Kate Boulton

The American Psychological Association joined nearly a dozen medical, public health, government and advocacy organizations in its release of a statement challenging HIV criminal laws (American Psychological Association [APA], 2016). The statement illustrates the recently expanded interest in state policies that criminalize the conduct of individuals living with HIV (Center for HIV Law and Policy [CHLP], 2014). Understanding these laws and what drives them requires a brief look at the history not just of HIV-specific criminal laws, but also of infectious disease control more broadly in the U.S. 


New reports highlight inequities faced by transgender people living with HIV

Oakland, CA –Transgender Law Center released two new reports today examining the experiences and disparities faced by transgender people living with HIV – primarily transgender women of color. The reports, Some Kind of Strength and See Us as People, delve deeper into issues first covered in the initial Positively Trans report in 2016, based on a first-of-its-kind survey of transgender people living with HIV from across the country. “At a time when affordable health care and funding for HIV strategies is under attack, these findings paint a stark picture for what’s at stake – and remind us that transgender women of color, particularly those in the South, are already under-resourced and in crisis,” said Cecilia Chung, who runs Transgender Law Center’s Positively Trans program. “For too long, transgender people living with HIV went unacknowledged and uncounted in national and international prevention efforts. Through Positively Trans, we are taking back our stories and creating our own strategies for survival.”

To complement the reports, Transgender Law Center released several videos created by members of the Positively Trans National Advisory Board. Each video shares the story of a transgender person living with HIV, providing a more personal look at the people and experiences behind the data.


Malawi High Court affirms human rights approach to criminalisation of HIV transmission and exposure

Zomba–On 19 January 2017, the Zomba High Court in Malawi delivered a landmark ruling on the application of criminal law to cases of HIV transmission and exposure.

The appellant is a woman living with HIV who was convicted of negligently and recklessly doing an act which is "likely to spread the infection of any disease which is dangerous to life" under section 192 of the Malawi Penal Code for accidentally breastfeeding another person's child. She was unrepresented at her trial and sentenced to 9 months' imprisonment.

Before the High Court, she appealed her conviction and sentence and challenged the constitutionality of section 192 of the Penal Code for being vague and overbroad. She raised expert evidence to show the "infinitesimally small risk" of HIV transmission by women on antiretroviral treatment through breastfeeding. The State agreed that the appellant's conviction and sentence should be overturned and set aside.


UN High-Level Panel On Access To Medicines Takes Next Step At Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council held a panel discussion yesterday to exchange views on good practices and key challenges relevant to access to medicines. The panel gave a large part of the discussion to the recent report of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, much to the chagrin of the European Union and the United States.

Opening the panel discussion, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Katie Gilmore said the right to physical and mental health is a fundamental right, remarking for example, that only half of those living with HIV/AIDS have access to anti-retroviral medicines.

She also pointed out, on international Women’s Day, that many women and girls lack access to medicines, calling for them to be able to be in control of their fertility. The right to health is an enabler of other rights, she said, and among other things, intellectual property rights must not be allowed to override the enjoyment to the right to health. She called for a human rights-based approach to trade and investment policies.


Main Recommendations Of UN High-Level Panel On Access To Medicines Presented At WTO

An event held at the World Trade Organization last week walked through key recommendations of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines, including strategies for moving some of them forward.

On the margins of the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) meeting last week, several developing countries, along with the secretariat of the UN High-Level Panel and the South Centre, organised a side event to prompt discussions about the report of the panel, which includes recommendations to WTO members.

Bangladesh, Brazil, India, and South Africa co-organised the side event, held on 1 March, which featured one of the two co-chairs of the High-Level Panel, the chairman of the UNITAID Board, the ambassador of Bangladesh, ambassador of Brazil, and a well-known academic on the question of access to medicines.