Reflections on the HIV/AIDS Opening Plenary: HIV Criminalisation

A report back on Edwin Bernard presentation More than science: Ensuring we leave no-one behind as we strive to end the epidemic. 

During the HIV/AIDS Conference Opening Plenary session Edwin Bernard spoke about the ongoing impacts HIV criminalisation, stigma and discrimination are having on our efforts to end the HIV epidemic.

Edwin provided us with an update on the important work of the HIV Justice Network and presented video footage from the 2016 “Beyond Blame” conference. The HIV Justice Network is a global information and advocacy hub for individuals and organisations working to end the inappropriate use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV. The stories presented during this presentation were incredibly powerful, providing insight into the lives of people living with HIV (PLHIV) who have been criminalised and the injustices that they have faced. This had a profound impact on me, as a healthcare professional, and reminded me of the important role we all have in working towards the decriminalisation of HIV. Author bio: Lucy Thallon is the Clinical Nurse Consultant for the HIV Response Team at Cairns Sexual Health Service. She is passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights, with her work focusing on marginalised populations affected by HIV. ​

Despite significant advances in HIV, the criminalisation of PLHIV continues to be prevalent across the globe, including in developed countries such as Australia. HIV prevention is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue. If we are serious about committing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reaching the UN 95-95-95 targets, more needs to be done to combat the discrimination and stigma experienced by PLHIV and the vulnerable / marginalised populations HIV affects.

We as scientists, clinicians, health workers, academics, peer workers, and advocates can help combat all kinds of stigma and discrimination against PLHIV by working with the most marginalised communities and continuing to challenge the misinformation and misconceptions around living with the virus, and how it is transmitted.  

“By reinforcing stigma, HIV criminalisation makes it more difficult for those at risk of HIV to access testing and prevention. It also makes it more difficult for those living with the virus to talk openly about it, and to be tested, treated and supported”. (Justice Edwin Cameron, Beyond Blame Conference 17 July 2016)

Author bio: Lucy Thallon is the Clinical Nurse Consultant for the HIV Response Team at Cairns Sexual Health Service. She is passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights, with her work focusing on marginalised populations affected by HIV. ​