By Sharna Quigley, Advocacy Officer, Queensland Positive People.
As with any International AIDS conference, the eyes of the world will be turned to the host country and their HIV response will be put under the microscope. As the criminalisation of HIV proposes to be another big feature in the conference program, the 20th International AIDS Conference promises to provide another opportunity for the revision and reinvigoration of advocacy approaches surrounding the criminalisation of HIV.
With the 2012 United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law (link: http://www.hivlawcommission.org/resources/report/FinalReport-Risks,Rights&Health-EN.pdf) concluding that any laws criminalising HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure of HIV status are counterproductive to HIV prevention, the patchwork of Australian transmission and disclosure laws falls short on various levels. Australia is currently living in the shadows by defying international guidance that compels states to ensure that HIV laws facilitate and enable effective responses to HIV prevention, care and treatment services.
Even though there have been a plethora of monographs written and circulated for decades outlining the ineffectiveness of criminal laws, and the rationale for using public health approaches as a means to reduce HIV transmission, Australia is still seeing the application of criminal laws over public health approaches. Why is Australia not leading the way in promulgating the relationship between science and the law?
For Australia to come out from behind the curtain onto the main stage, we need to collaborate together to advocate that law and science go hand in hand and do not exist separately. If law and science were on the same page, our laws would reflect that prevention strategies need to be driven by an evidence-based, best practice model of public health interventions. Our laws would also reflect that the prosecution of individuals for the transmission and non-disclosure of HIV undermines prevention efforts, compounds stigma and leads to PLHIV disengaging from care. We need to pen a new script where law, science and prevention are working together as one on the HIV prevention stage.
In 2013, as a part of the desire to reinvigorate Australia’s response to HIV criminalisation, Australian PLHIV national and state organisations came together to form the POZ Action collaboration. A key objective of the collective was to deliver a coordinated national response to criminalisation of HIV in Australia embodying the MIPA (Meaningful Involvement of PLHIV) principle. You can read about the formation of POZ Action and its various position papers here: (http://napwa.org.au/2013/10/22/poz-action).
It was identified that the lack of action demonstrated a need to diversify advocacy projects. A position paper was penned, as well as the formulation of an advocacy strategy. Grass roots approaches are to be coupled with high-level policy interventions including continual research and monitoring, the advancing of a stated case and development of prosecutorial guidelines. The plan was committed by all PLHIV organisations in Australia, demonstrating the requirement for collaboration and diversification of skill sets.
If the lessons of the past are anything to go by, we must realise that collaboration is only the start. The coming together of science, law, policy and PLHIV are imperative to prevent HIV transmission. If the world is a stage, then AIDS 2014 is the perfect venue!