Global Politics

HIV laws in Africa

EC says a person who purposely infects another should be punished, but these special laws are counterproductive: these laws criminalize both HIV transmission and what they call exposure to it (Meaning it could be criminal activity if you engage in sexual activity with someone and don't tell them about your HIV?) Yes and the difficulty is sexual acts are not defined. What about holding hands or kissing? The penalties are very severe for not informing your partner. This is bad public health policy and you're going to drive people away from being tested and getting access to treatment. (How long have these laws been on the books and to what extent do they fall short?) There's one law which applies to pregnant mothers who are required to take certain steps not to expose her baby to HIV. But if a HIV-positive mother breast feeds her baby, she'll be doing a criminal act. And that woman probably doesn't have access to anti-retrovirals. (So are women like this actually being prosecuted?) That's the paradox, because as far as we know no one has been prosecuted, but it still puts up blocks against prevention in Africa. How would a person who is fearful that he or she is HIV-positive, how would they feel to take a test which then might declare them a criminal? (There seems to be such a huge grey area here. Should there not be judicial oversight for, say, a husband who is promiscuous and refuses to take an HIV test?) That's the impetus behind the laws and we understand that but taking your example, the impulse behind the law is that such a man should have impetus to take an HIV test and not spread the virus if he has it. We say you're going to make that man run away from a testing facility and the man and his wife will fall ill to HIV. My own burning passion is that no African should die from AIDS when anti-retrovirals are available, and that man and his wife are going to die unnecessarily from AIDS because of these criminal laws. (Is this a fear or have you seen it happen?) I think it's a reasonably apprehended fear. The poor factors in this issue have been stigma. (Can you describe what you had to do to avoid living with stigma as an openly gay, openly HIV-positive man in South Africa?) It was a tremendous struggle. The pivotal moment came for me in 1997 when I was facing death from AIDS and then I got on anti-retrovirals and within 10 days I realized my life had been given back to me. That gave me the conviction to speak out.

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+++ a remarkably powerful and interesting interview. EC's own story mixes with his incredibly informed opinion to make a supremely intriguing interview.

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