Criminalizing exposure to—or transmission of—HIV prevents people from actively seeking out HIV/AIDS treatment and does little to reduce the spread of the virus, according to an opinion piece in the August issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as reported in MarketWatch (, 8/4).

According to the article, the issue of HIV criminalization will be a major discussion topic at the XVII International AIDS Conference, held August 3–8 in Mexico City, as incidences of criminal punishment for HIV exposure or transmission are becoming more common around the world. For example, in May, an HIV-positive man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for spitting on a police officer, even though saliva poses no risk for HIV transmission.

“Criminalization is costing lives and increasing suffering,” says AIDS activist Edwin Cameron, one of the authors of the JAMA commentary. “It assumes the worst about people with HIV, when a human rights-based approach would empower people and enable them to make safe, health-seeking choices for themselves and for others.”