Published January, 2010

Where HIV is a Crime, Not Just a Virus, Edwin J. Bernard, HIV Treatment Update (2010)

This article discusses the global trend in the creation of laws specifically aimed at criminalizing HIV exposure. At the time of the article, 63 countries had at least one jurisdiction with HIV-specific criminal laws—a number on the rise, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The author points out how problematic these laws are, especially since there is so little data regarding their impact and none demonstrating that criminal sanctions deter individuals from exposing others to the virus.

Prosecution for HIV-related crimes occur around the world—according to Bernard, Bermuda has the highest rate of prosecutions;, in a population of about 200 identified HIV-positive individuals, approximately 2.5% have been prosecuted under HIV-specific laws. Most problematic, according to Bernard, is the role of the U.S. in the global rise of such laws. Until recently, USAID, the international development agency, supported the adoption of a model law to broadly criminalize HIV exposure. The author suggests that the debate surrounding HIV-specific criminalization and prosecution is informed more by perceptions of morality than the actual facts of HIV exposure and transmission.