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HIV/AIDS Cure 2019: Colombia Decriminalizes HIV Transmission But 75 Countries Can Still Imprison People for It

Photo by GbergT (licensed under CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.com

Patients living with HIV are not only struggling with the medical complications that it brings while a cure has not been found yet. They also have to deal with the stigma that comes with being diagnosed as HIV-positive. Even worse, many countries still have policies that criminalize a person for HIV transmission.

On the bright side, one country has recently struck down such policy. Last week, the UNAIDS hailed the decision of Colombia’s Constitutional Court to decriminalize the transmission of HIV, and Hepatitis B. “Public health goals cannot be pursued by denying people their individual rights,” UNAIDS Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson said. “The decision by the Constitutional Court of Colombia is a concrete step to ensure the law works for the HIV response, and not against it.”

Per UNAIDS, Colombia’s decision was driven by the belief that the former policy has contributed to the discrimination and stigma towards people living with HIV. Thus, it may have negatively affected their efforts to bring necessary public health services to people diagnosed with the infection.

The UNAIDS recognized its importance though there remains a much bigger fight in this matter. According to AIDSMap.com, there are still 75 countries with laws that directly or indirectly criminalize HIV transmission or merely for the patients’ HIV status. The same report noted that about 1,000 people were penalized across 49 countries in the last four years alone and cited Belarus and the Czech Republic as some of the territories with harshest policies on this issue.

This global situation, unfortunately, persists despite the consensus statement of 20 experts published in 2018 that attested the criminalization of having HIV or its transmission is not wholly grounded in medical science. In the paper, scientists and researchers from various countries agreed that in territories that punishes HIV patients for their status often do not decide based on scientific evidence. With a lack of medical bases, laws reportedly often “overstate” the risks and effects of HIV transmission even in cases where no harm was done.

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