Effort to enforce HIV 'health threat' law raises questions

January 31, 2013, University of Michigan

(Medical Xpress)—Michigan health officials are using HIV surveillance technologies to assist in enforcing a "health threat" law that makes it illegal for HIV-positive people to have sex without disclosing their status.

A new University of Michigan study reveals that health officials employ the state's names reporting database, alongside partner services referrals, for law enforcement purposes. However, this is bad social policy for a variety of reasons, says Trevor Hoppe, the study's author and a in sociology and women's studies.

When clients visit publicly funded in Michigan to be tested for HIV, they can expect more than just a finger prick or blood draw. Counselors also ask clients extensive questions about their and partners.

If the client tests positive for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, the counselor will provide treatment referrals. They are also legally mandated to ask clients to report the names of , which health officials attempt to contact to recommend that they be tested.

Hoppe found that some health officials also ask their clients if any of their partners reported to them that they were HIV-positive. Officials then attempt to cross-reference the reported name against the state's database of everyone in the state who has been diagnosed as HIV-positive. If an individual reported as a partner is identified by the state as HIV-positive and the client did not report that they disclosed, an investigation would be launched that could have legal ramifications.

At least 24 states have laws making it a misdemeanor or felony for HIV-positive people to have sex without first disclosing their status. In Michigan, failing to disclose is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison—whether or not the person was ever at risk of contracting the disease from their partner.

"The evidence is mounting that these laws are bad public policy and certainly bad , yet Michigan health officials are helping to enforce them," Hoppe said.

At the minimum, there is little transparency in how health officials use epidemiological data for law enforcement purposes, he says.

"Health officials in some local jurisdictions are using data they collect for public health purposes to help enforce the law, but they're not telling their clients how their personal information could be used," Hoppe said.

From an ethical perspective, the question is whether it is reasonable for health officials to use confidential medical information to enforce the law.

Hoppe interviewed 25 local health officials who manage "health threat" cases from 14 jurisdictions across Michigan. His research also reveals that how local interpret what qualifies as a "health threat" varies. In some cases, local officials suggested that an HIV-positive woman who became pregnant or contracted another STI might be labeled a "."

"These systems were not intended for legal surveillance, yet data collected by them are susceptible to being used for criminal proceedings," Hoppe said.

Whether this practice should be continued must be discussed among policymakers, advocates and stakeholders, including those in the HIV-positive and –negative community, he said.

The findings appear in the February issue of the journal Social Problems.

Explore further: Michigan courts use HIV disclosure laws to punish poor, marginalized individuals

Related Stories

Michigan courts use HIV disclosure laws to punish poor, marginalized individuals

July 30, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Michigan's felony HIV disclosure law is a tool to control and punish marginalized and poor individuals in criminal court cases, according to new University of Michigan findings.

Fifth of US youth with HIV unaware during first-time sex

November 10, 2012
Twenty percent of young people born with HIV in the United States don't know they're infected when they have sex for the first time, according to a new study released Friday.

Washington tailors HIV and AIDS talk to seniors

October 17, 2012
(AP)—Officials in the nation's capital are asking senior citizens to think about HIV and AIDS.

Brazil to begin tracking numbers of HIV cases

December 27, 2012
(AP)—Brazilian health officials say doctors will be required to notify authorities of every HIV case in the nation.

Researchers find alcohol plays no role in disclosing HIV status among Russians

June 11, 2012
Disclosure of HIV positive serostatus to sexual partners is considered an important public health goal to prevent new infections. Disclosure can motivate sex partners to make informed choices and change behavior through negotiation ...

Recommended for you

HIV-1 genetic diversity is higher in vaginal tract than in blood during early infection

January 18, 2018
A first-of-its-kind study has found that the genetic diversity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is higher in the vaginal tract than in the blood stream during early infection. This finding, published in PLOS ...

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.