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Sleeping with death: the future of criminalising deliberate HIV infection

first_imgBY JARRYL BRYANRita, who preferred not to use her real name, met her ex-boyfriend at a party in 2015. Having just came out of another relationship, she was on the rebound. She related that something about him prompted her to let her guard down and approached him. By the end of the night, they had exchanged numbers and a romance started.In June, 2016, then Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton (left), Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador George Talbot (centre) and First Secretary in the Guyana Mission at the UN Headquarters, Shiraz Mohamed (right) attended a high level UN meeting discussing eradicating AIDSIn hindsight, Rita recalled that her new found paramour would always find excuses to avoid having her visit his home. They eventually started a sexual relationship, but this would almost always happen at her place of abode.She related that one day he had stopped at his house on the way to take her to the popular seawall lime, as he had to collect something. Feeling the urge use the rest room, Rita subsequently followed him in and found the rest room.A search for napkins led her to the medicine cabinet, where a pill bottle labelled Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) stared back at her.Deliberate transmissionAs of last year, Guyana’s National Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Programme Secretariat recorded statistics showing that there are 7000 Guyanese living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).Of that group, some 5300 are attached to a care and treatment facility and a further 85 per cent receiving ARV treatment.Rita’s is not an isolated case. The issue of HIV positive individuals deliberately withholding information about their status from their sexual partners is a touchy one which has sparked international debate. Varying reasons for this dangerous practice have been provided, such as fear of stigma.But consideration has also been given for criminal liability. In one of the most famous cases, Ugandan born Canadian Johnson Aziga became the first person to be found guilty of murder in 2009 for deliberately transmitting HIV, leading to someone’s death.Diagnosed with HIV in 1996, Aziga subsequently had unprotected sex with 11 women without disclosing his status, infecting seven. Ultimately, two died from AIDS related complications. Aziga was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault.Important to note is that the Canadian courts ruled that since he never disclosed his status to the women, they could not have truly given their consent. It is the same principle which applies when a Police Officer is mandated to read a suspect their Miranda rights or else anything said by the suspect is inadmissible to court.The United States is notable for having over 30 states with laws which criminalise the wilful transmission of HIV. The laws have been criticised and condemned by human rights groups, who argue that they reinforce the stigma against HIV positive persons.Guyana’s effortsEfforts to make similar laws a reality in Guyana were also met with staunch opposition. In 2009, Guyana Action Party/Rise, Organise and Rebuild (GAP/ROAR) Guyana representative Everall Franklin brought a motion to the National Assembly seeking to make intentionally infecting a person with HIV an indictable offence.The National Aids Committee (NAC) had immediately called for it to be rejected, stating that the motion sets out to have “the transmission of HIV to any other person be an indictable offense once a person knows that he is infected. The motion does not require intent. If a condom breaks, for example, and transmission occurs, the transmitter would be liable.”“While recognising that infection rates are still disappointingly high as the motion states, the NAC is completely opposed to the premise of this motion that HIV positive persons are responsible for this state of affairs and must be penalised. In this respect the motion is inhumane, ill-informed and dangerous,” the Committee said in a release.The motion was ultimately defeated. In 2011, then Health Minsiter, Dr Leslie Ramsammy addressed the issue in the National Assembly. He also produced the findings of a Special Select Committee, which was tasked with facilitating public discussion on criminalising reckless and deliberate transmission of HIV.In his remarks, Ramsammy said “we all agreed that the wilful transmission of HIV is unacceptable and is criminal. But we believe that there are general criminal laws that are adequate to address the wilful transmission of HIV. While we accepted that the wilful transmission of HIV is a problem, we do not believe that the problem can be resolved by the criminalising of HIV transmission.”He added that, “the Special Select Committee after deliberations and after hearing the views of individuals and organisations concluded that criminalising of HIV transmission has not been proven to prevent the spread of HIV; it merely encourages individuals not to get tested and increases the stigma and discrimination against those who are positive.”“This in turn can lead to increased spread of HIV from those who do not know their status. The Committee and those citizens and organisations that came forward to make presentations to the Special Select Committee agreed that stigma and discrimination have proven to be the most powerful drivers of the HIV epidemic,” the Minister had concluded.The stance Guyana took was one applauded by local and international groups including the United Nations AIDS humanitarian group.2017Guyana does not have any laws in its statutes specific to wilful HIV transmission. According to the Public Relations Officer for the Director of Public Prosecutions Chambers, Liz Rahman, such a law does not exist now, though she directed further queries to the Legal Affairs Ministry.In an interview with parliamentarian and medical doctor, Dr Frank Anthony, he stated that such legislation may actually not be in the country’s best interest. Anthony, who is a vocal orator in the National Assembly on matters of public health, posited that such legislation may just deter HIV positive persons from disclosing their status.“There are a few cases where persons are practising revenge behaviour. And there are legal (statutes) in other jurisdictions. But by and large we have not seen much of that here in Guyana. And therefore putting in legislation like that would do more harm,” Dr Anthony concluded.Despite denials from her lover that the medication belonged to him, Rita ended the relationship and subsequently tested herself. It turned out that her experience was just a narrow brush with the dreaded disease, as her results came back as negative.She has kept to herself since then. According to Rita, her narrow brush with the wilful transmission of HIV is something she will never forget. She said it is an experience she will carry around with her for the rest of her life and has affected her interactions with all subsequent suitors.And according to her, in her quiet moments she often wonders what justice she would have gotten had the test she took two years ago come back positive.last_img

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