Edwin J. Bernard
Published: 18 July 2010


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This chapter provides a brief explanation of the different kinds of laws used to criminalise non-disclosure and/or the potential or actual exposure or transmission of HIV from one person to another. This is followed by a history of the criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission, highlighting significant milestones in laws, prosecutions and convictions around the world.

Contents include:

  • examples of criminal laws that apply to non-disclosure of HIV-positive status and/or potential or actual HIV exposure or transmission

  • the impact of misconceptions and irrational fears in the early years of the AIDS epidemic

  • the myth of the ‘intentional HIV transmitter’

  • the impact of efforts to criminalise HIV exposure and transmission in the United States

  • the rise of prosecutions in high-income countries

  • the recent proliferation of HIV-specific laws in Africa

  • the growing opposition to ‘criminalisation’.

A note about the availability of evidence

Obtaining accurate information about laws and prosecutions relating to HIV exposure and transmission can be challenging, even for local civil society organisations working within their country. It is particularly difficult to discern how issues relating to the criminalisation of potential or actual HIV exposure or transmission have been addressed in countries in which such information is not freely available.

Tracing the history of such criminalisation is thus problematic. Much of what is known about individual cases, and even some of the laws themselves, comes from media reports which are selective at best and inaccurate at worst. Given the lack of formal mechanisms to identify, report and record HIV-related prosecutions, it is not possible to definitively determine the true number of arrests and prosecutions – or even HIV-specific criminal laws – for every country in the world.

The first systematic efforts to monitor prosecutions outside a single country took place in 2005 when the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), working in partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), published the results of a rapid scan of laws and prosecutions in Europe.1 Since 2007, global monitoring and reporting of individual arrests, prosecutions, newly proposed HIV-specific criminal laws and civil society responses has been archived in the author’s blog Criminal HIV Transmission ( In 2008, the Global Criminalisation Scan website ( was launched to document HIV-related criminal laws and prosecutions worldwide. The website provides updated information as it becomes awailable. GNP+ recently published a report based on its findings to date.2


  1. GNP+, THT Criminalisation of HIV transmission in Europe. Available online at:, 2005
  2. Global Network of People Living with HIV Global Criminalisation Report (working title). Amsterdam: GNP+, 2010

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A writer and advocate on a range of HIV-related issues, Edwin has a particular specialism in HIV and the criminal law. He works with national and international HIV organisations, including the International AIDS Society, GNP+ and UNAIDS, as well having as a long association with NAM as a writer on this topic and as the former editor of HIV Treatment Update. To visit Edwin's blog and respond to posts click here.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
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We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.