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HIV prison laws inflame stigma, offer no protection

Media Release
11 May 2020

Proposed laws to forcibly test prisoners for HIV have no basis in science, perpetuate stigma, and should be referred to a parliamentary committee, according to the WA AIDS Council and National Association for People with HIV Australia.

Under laws set to be introduced to the WA Parliament on Tuesday, a prisoner who assaults a prison officer will be immediately tested for HIV. The laws overlook the following critical facts:

  • HIV is not transmitted through saliva, a key myth perpetuated to justify this and similar legislation.
  • In the unlikely event a prison officer was exposed to HIV, they should take post-exposure prophylaxis, a medicine which can prevent transmission within 72 hours of exposure.
  • The Government’s press release falsely claims prison officers who have been assaulted have to wait three months before they themselves can be tested for HIV. This is false. Modern HIV tests detect exposure within six days.
  • Falsely equating HIV with criminality inflames stigma and discourages people from seeking tests for HIV.
  • A vaccine exists for hepatitis B and there is a cure for hepatitis C.

WAAC President, Asanka Gunasekera said:

“HIV thrives on stigma and misinformation. These laws inflame that problem and hinder our prevention efforts. Marginalised communities such as gay and bisexual men, people who inject drugs, and sex workers will be less likely to seek a test for HIV when they see it associated with criminality.

“Part of the case for these laws rests on the discomfort prison officers face when they are spat upon. However, HIV is not transmitted through saliva, destroying one of the key arguments for introducing this legislation.

“The Government has also argued a prison officer may face an anxious three month wait to know if they have contracted HIV. The truth is that modern tests pick up the presence of HIV within six days of exposure. Rapid tests provide highly accurate results within fifteen minutes.

NAPWHA President Scott Harlum said:

“Frontline workers including prison officers need to know they’re being sold a lie and offered nothing but dangerous false reassurance by these proposed laws and any government promoting them.

“There is no mystery in how best to respond to a genuine potential exposure to HIV, such as a needlestick injury, and that does not include any time wasted or misdirected attention on anybody but the person potentially exposed.

“In cases where someone faces genuine potential exposure to HIV, such as a needlestick injury, post-exposure prophylaxis medicine is highly effective at preventing HIV transmission if taken as soon as possible and within 72 hours. Additionally, all frontline workers should be protected against hepatitis B through vaccination.

“These laws fail to solve any problem, and only hinder the HIV prevention effort. Likewise, there is no evidence mandatory testing of prisoners will do anything other than further marginalise those living with HIV and other blood borne viruses. Amplifying anxiety and misplaced fear around HIV is simply the wrong thing to do.”

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UNSW webinar series: Spotlight on Stigma

This occasional seminar series presented by the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) explores the cutting-edge of stigma science, policy and practice. CSRH will draw on insights from national and international experts with the aim of building awareness and skills in the use of stigma concepts and evidence.

Through this series, CSRH hope to contribute to developing a shared literacy around key concepts in stigma, centrally involve people with lived experience in examining and unpacking research, and advance our efforts to reduce the effects of stigma in Australia.

NAPWHA is a partner/collaborator on the CSRH Stigma Indicators Monitoring Project.

17 August 2021: Introduction to stigma for the BBV workforce

Video:  On 17 August 2021, Carla Treloar facilitated a seminar for the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH UNSW Sydney) Seminar as part of the Spotlight in Stigma series with presentations by Loren Brener, Timothy Broady, Darryl O’Donnell (AFAO) and Aaron Cogle (NAPWHA).

29 September 2021: Stigma and Policy

In the second seminar of our Spotlight on Stigma series, CSRH explored why and how policy processes have focused on stigma. An expert panel discussed how policy processes can enable efforts to tackle stigma, where gaps remain and how community voices are included in policy processes around stigma.

Speakers include:

  • Matt Craig — Manager of the HIV and STI Unit at the NSW Ministry of Health.
  • Carrie Fowlie — CEO of Hepatitis Australia
  • Jules Kim — CEO of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association – the peak national organisation that has been representing sex workers as well as sex worker organisations, collectives and projects throughout Australia since 1989.
  • Stuart Manoj-Margison — Director of Blood Borne Viruses, Sexually Transmissible Infections, and Torres Strait Health Policy Section within the Immunisation and Communicable Diseases Branch of the Australian Government Department of Health.

Facilitator: Scientia Professor Carla Treloar, Director, UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health & UNSW Social Policy Research Centre

16 October 2021: Stigma and the structure of health systems

In the third seminar, Carla Treloar will explore the organisation and structure of health systems. The expert panel will discuss how these organisational and structural factors can produce stigma and give us tools for tackling stigma within health systems.

Speakers include:

  • Sione Crawford — currently the CEO of Harm Reduction Victoria: the organisation representing people who use drugs in Victoria, Australia and has previously worked in the ACT and NSW at sibling organisations.
  • Associate professor Fiona Haigh — Director of the Health Equity Research Development Unit (HERDU) a joint initiative between the UNSW Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity and the Sydney Local Health District.
  • Dr. Thomas Ungar — Psychiatrist-in-Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital of the Unity Health Toronto and Associate Professor University of Toronto. He is an award winning educator, communicator and creator of the You Tube web-series Think You Can Shrink?

Facilitator: Scientia Professor Carla Treloar, Director, UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health & UNSW Social Policy Research Centre

31 March 2022: Stigma, the law and BBVs

In the the fifth seminar of the Spotlight on Stigma series, we look to a key structural aspect of stigma in the BBV sector – the law. We will interrogate how laws can both generate and reduce stigma. The panel of speakers will provide insights from research, legal practice and community perspectives.

Speakers include:

  • Paul Kidd is a HIV activist and criminal defence lawyer based in Melbourne. He has a long-standing interest in issues around HIV criminalisation, public health law, consent, crime and stigma. He is currently completing postgraduate studies in criminal law at Monash University.

  • Kate Seear is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor at La Trobe University. She holds honours degrees in Arts and Law, a PhD in Sociology and is a practising lawyer. Her research is socio-legal and empirical in nature and typically explores connections between law, alcohol and other drugs, health, gender and the body. Her particular interests include intersections between harm reduction and the law, the law and blood-borne viruses, and drugs, gender, stigma and human rights. Kate is the author of numerous books, articles and reports on drug law. Her most recent book is Law, drugs and the making of addiction: Just Habits (2020), and was the winner of the 2020 Socio-Legal Studies Association’s History and Theory Book Prize in the UK.

  • Dylan O’Hara is a queer and trans sex worker and the Acting Manager of Vixen, Victoria’s Peer-only Sex Worker Organisation. Vixen is based on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Through its work, Vixen promotes the cultural, legal, human, industrial, occupational and civil rights of all sex workers, and has been leading the Victorian campaign for the full decriminalisation of sex work for many years. Vixen is proudly 100% by and for sex workers, and is a member of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, and NSWP, Global Network of Sex Work Projects. Dylan started sex work as a brothel-based sex worker in Aotearoa, and they have been involved in the sex workers rights movement and sex worker-run online media since 2010

Facilitator: Scientia Professor Carla Treloar, Director, UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health & UNSW Social Policy Research Centre