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HIV Disclosure and Criminalization Take Center Stage at PACHA Meeting

November 2, 2012

HIV is not a crime. Criminalizing it is.

Voluntary disclosure, HIV criminalization and implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy were the hot topics at the convening of the 48th Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) in Washington, D.C., last week. Other topics of the two-day meeting, which was presided over by chair Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS Fund, included the Affordable Care Act and reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act.

The update regarding safe and voluntary disclosure was extremely powerful and featured presentations by Antigone Dempsey of the CDC/HRSA Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention and Treatment (CHAC), Scott Schoettes of Lambda Legal, and AIDS United's very own Linda Scruggs. During the second day of the meeting, PACHA unanimously voted to adopt the safe and voluntary disclosure resolution presented during the first day's update, and a final version of the document will be released soon. A few of the guiding principles regarding safe and voluntary disclosure of HIV status taken from the resolution include:

  1. Society has an obligation to create a safe environment for disclosure.
  2. Discussion of HIV and STI status is important.
  3. The circumstances and context of disclosure must be respected.

PACHA's adoption of the safe and voluntary disclosure resolution is a huge step forward for people living with HIV/AIDS! It provides PACHA with a blueprint for action as we work towards creating an environment conducive to safe and voluntary disclosure.

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PACHA additionally featured a robust discussion of criminalization from the standpoint of several advocates working to change laws in the states and at the federal level. Catherine Hanssens, the Executive Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy provided a possible resolution on behalf of the Positive Justice Project's Federal Advocacy Work Group (on which AIDS United's Bill McColl serves as a co-chair). Sean Strub, Executive Director of the Sero Project, showed a short film, HIV is Not a Crime (the film can be viewed here) and highlighted prosecutions of people living with HIV resulting in incredibly harsh sentences. Finally Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher with Human Rights Watch, highlighted the related issue of police using condoms as evidence of prostitution, which puts sex workers at greater risk for becoming infected with HIV.

During the afternoon's public comment period approximately 10 people who either had been prosecuted under HIV specific statutes, or who were related to people who had been prosecuted, spoke about their situations. Perhaps most moving was Donald Bogardus from Iowa, a man living with cystic fibrosis who is awaiting sentencing in Iowa. He faces as much as 25 years in prison despite having been virally suppressed and not actually transmitting HIV to his partner.

Unfortunately, PACHA did not pass the criminalization resolution despite the proposal of several changes designed to meet member concerns. A particular concern was that PACHA should ensure that people who had been infected despite their partner's knowledge that they were HIV-positive also had an opportunity to speak. It was also stated that parts of the resolution were not clear and might leave the impression that PACHA was dismissive towards people who became infected in this situation. As a result, the resolution was moved back to the disparities committee with a request to move forward quickly on a resolution. It should be noted that some of the items in the disclosure resolution were similar to proposals in the criminalization resolution that may help address the concerns regarding criminalization.

To learn more about PACHA, please visit the website here.




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