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Criminal prosecution for HIV transmission

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 28 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:666
  1. Ruth Lowbury (, executive director,
  2. George R Kinghorn, clinical director for communicable diseases
  1. Medical Foundation for AIDS & Sexual Health (MedFASH), BMA House, London WC1H 9JP
  2. Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield S10 2JF

    A threat to public health

    The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales has issued, for public consultation, new guidance on criminal prosecution for the “sexual transmission of infections which cause grievous bodily harm.”1 It is likely to be used mostly in relation to HIV. Although this attempt to introduce standardised criteria for prosecutions is welcome, we have serious concerns about the public health impact of using the law to criminalise disease transmission.

    People infected with HIV who are taking antiretroviral treatment are able to live relatively healthy lives, but those whose infection remains undiagnosed still face serious illness and death. There has never been a stronger imperative to encourage individuals at risk to come forward for testing so they can access treatment. In the face of a rapidly rising prevalence of HIV infection, there is an equally strong imperative for preventing transmission. This includes support for those infected, helping them work out how to avoid exposing their sexual partners to infection and dealing …

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