So many harms, so little benefit: A global review of the history and harms of HIV criminalisation


Since the early years of HIV, many jurisdictions have criminalised HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure, and transmission. Many of these laws and prosecutions are without a scientific basis and reflect an inaccurate understanding of HIV-related risk and harm. Numerous studies of HIV criminal prosecutions show that women, sex workers, racial minorities, gay and bisexual men, transgender people, immigrants, and Indigenous people are disproportionately charged and convicted, often resulting in long custodial sentences. Data from molecular HIV surveillance, used to track HIV outbreaks in marginalised populations, are prone to be misused in HIV criminal cases. Scientific consensus statements and international standards have helped to guide advocacy to repeal or reform a number of these laws, resulting in fewer prosecutions in some jurisdictions. Many successful reform efforts have been led by people living with HIV and are notable at a moment of reckoning on racism and inequality in global health.


Csete J, Elliott R, Bernard EJ




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Determinants of Health
  • Determinants of Health
    • Stigma/discrimination
  • Population(s)
    • General HIV+ population
  • Health Systems
    • Governance arrangements


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