Retrovirology editorial argues litigation compromises HIV prevention

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In recognition of World AIDS Day,
Associate Editor of Retrovirology, Dr Mark Wainberg, published an editorial
today. Wainberg, Director of the McGill University
AIDS Centre
in Canada, argues that the criminalization of HIV
transmission only serves to undermine HIV prevention programs as it intensifies
confusion regarding the disease. In addition, ciminalizing this behavior
effectively slows down the testing and treatment process for HIV positive
individuals.
 

Wainberg discusses a current court case in Canada which involves a man who has been
accused of sexually transmitting HIV to 11 different women, two of whom have
died because of the condition. The media tends to cover such cases with a great
deal of enthusiasm, which Wainberg argues usually causes more harm than good.
The editorial also suggests that facing a conviction of wilful HIV transmission
may be a significant deterrent to being tested for HIV infection in the first
place, considering an individual who does not know that he is HIV positive
cannot logically be accused of its transmission.

In Wainberg’s opinion, the criminalization of HIV
transmission leads to two major negative consequences. Firstly, the failure to
identify as many HIV positive people as possible will lead to higher rates of
HIV spread than would otherwise occur. Secondly, by delaying testing many
HIV-infected individuals may not become diagnosed until at least several years
after infection, thus potentially allowing the virus replicate throughout this
time and cause significant, often irreversible, damage to the immune system.

The author notes that if the evidence against the accused in
the Canadian case is upheld in court, this will reinforce the notion that he is
indeed the irresponsible individual that the prosecutors have made him out to
be. Wainberg summarizes: ‘… let’s also recognize that our policies regarding
criminalization of HIV transmission are having the opposite effect of those
that were intended and fix things in order to do a much better job in regard to
overall public health. On World AIDS day 2008, this is a topic worthy of
further thoughtful consideration.’

Research performed in Dr. Wainberg’s laboratory is supported
by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. 
The comments expressed in this article are those of the author and do
not necessarily represent the views of either the journal or the publisher.
 

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