Today we had the privilege of touring UNAIDS, the United Nations’ big anti-AIDS organization.

Given the relatively small number of people who identify themselves as pro-AIDS, you’d think that an anti-AIDS organization would be something that just about everyone on earth would support. And yet here I stand, anti-UNAIDS. Or “Un-UNAIDS”, as I think that looks a bit nicer, if less correct.

 

My main beef with the organization stems from its view on when criminal law should come into play in the case of non-disclosure of HIV status. The organization’s view is that failing to inform a sexual partner that you are HIV-positive should not be a criminal act unless the person intends to transmit the HIV virus, and that HIV is actually transmitted. The rationale is that in order for an act to be criminal there usually has to be some form of intent to cause harm attached. Quoth our presenter: “People who don’t disclose their HIV status to sexual partners don’t do so for the purpose of transmitting HIV – they just want to have sex.”

If that truly represents the viewpoint of the UN, then colour me extremely disappointed. It astounds me that such a well-regarded organization could have such a fundamental misunderstanding about how the law works. There are plenty of crimes which are punished for the the intent to cause the act alone, and not the intent to cause harm. Rape comes quickly to mind. In at least some rape cases, the offender doesn’t want to hurt anyone – he just wants to have sex. And according to the UNAIDS logic, we shouldn’t punish those offenders.  That’s concerning, to say the least.

When the presenter said this the room turned hostile on her, and rightly so. Perhaps it’s my Canadian bias speaking, but I think our Supreme Court has it pretty close to right: If you’re HIV positive and you fail to disclose your status and then proceed to expose them to a significant risk of transmission, you’ve just committed a sexual assault. What the word “significant” means is up for debate, but it allows some leeway for people who have such a low viral load that the probability of transmission is infinitesimal.

 

To further support UNAIDS’ position, the presenter gave us some statistics to show how much of a non-risk HIV really is. According to her data, I could have unprotected sex with 600 different HIV-positive women over the next 600 days, and after all that I’d still only have about a 50% chance of contracting HIV. Now, I’m not sure about these statistics. If true, they would seem to make it very difficult to contract HIV even if you wanted to. Wikipedia seems to suggest that the figures she cited are on the low end of the range, but for the moment I’ll accept them as correct.

Just a simple question then: If there was a 1/1250 chance of you contracting HIV from someone every time you had sex with them, would you want to know about it? Assuming you two have sex twice per week, that’s 104 rolls of the dice per year. Going by the law of averages, you’d have an 8.3% chance of contracting HIV every year that you remain sexually active with that partner. Would you feel entitled to know that information?

“Condoms can reduce the likelihood of transmission by a further 80%”, says my pamphlet. Fair enough. So rather than an 8.3% chance per year, the chance is reduced to 1.6% per year. Remain sexually active with that person for a decade, and the law of averages gives you a 16% chance of contracting the disease in that span. And I’ll ask you again: Would you feel entitled to know that information? And would you feel violated if someone had exposed you to that risk without your knowledge?

 

It would be wonderful to eliminate AIDS someday, and to its credit UNAIDS does a lot of excellent work on that front, making treatment and prevention options available where they are needed most. But although it is no longer the death sentence it used to be, there is still no cure and it remains a life-altering ailment. No one who contracts HIV just shrugs it off as they’d shrug off being diagnosed with the flu. People want to be informed so that they can protect themselves. By sticking its head in the sand and pretending that AIDS isn’t a big deal anymore, UNAIDS undermines its ultimate goal of eliminating the disease.

And so, I’m un-UNAIDS.

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