PERTH, Australia — Leading Australian HIV researchers have called on the Australian government to consider counseling over prosecution when dealing with people who are living with HIV, and who may have exposed others to the virus, Out in Perth reports.
In a consensus statement published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia researchers argue that counseling would be the more effective approach.
The statement highlights that transmission of HIV during sex is quite low and can be hard to quantify, especially when people are receiving treatment, Out in Perth reports.
The doctors also note that given the improvements to treatment, becoming HIV positive is not as endangering to life as it was when the virus was first recognized.
“Most people recently infected with HIV are able to commence simple treatment providing them a normal and healthy life expectancy, largely comparable with their HIV-negative peers,” the report reads.
The doctors urge government to consider the limited risk of HIV transmission per sexual act and the limited long-term harms experienced by most people recently diagnosed with HIV, saying that appropriate care should be taken before HIV prosecutions are pursued.
The report suggests consideration should be given to alternatives to prosecution, including public health management.
There have been at least 38 criminal prosecutions for HIV sexual transmission in Australia. The researchers claim scientific concepts have been inconsistently applied across those cases, Out in Perth reports.
“In some cases, the risks and impacts of HIV infection may have been overstated,” they said in the report.
At the International AIDS Conference held earlier this year in Durban, South Africa, the issue of prosecuting people for transmitting HIV was discussed.
A recent report, Advancing HIV Justice 2, noted that 72 countries have HIV-specific criminal laws. During the 30-month period covered by the report there were at least 313 arrests, prosecutions or convictions in 28 countries.
In the U.S., some jurisdictions consider a person living with HIV to be a “deadly weapon” and there have been cases of people being handed down 30-plus year prison sentences. There have also been high profile cases in Australia, including a recent case in Western Australia, according to Out in Perth.