In HIV must be revealed to partners (Editorial, May 20), some comments were made that may lead to confusion.
First, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled prosecutions would only be possible if there was "a realistic possibility of transmission."
The use of condoms and low viral load would fall under that category as defined by the court. Viral load is now a contributing consideration, contrary to the statement in the editorial that stated "regardless of viral load."
The court ruling was applicable to heterosexual intercourse in the instant case, and there is a lot of "grey area" in a law that has been defined by the courts. It is truly tragic that gutless politicians of all political stripes have left this matter for the courts to define. As a person living with HIV who volunteers on local and national boards, I have seen increased anxiety amongst my peers. Many are afraid of being used as legal pawns in further legal challenges to clarify this law. Some people may consider not getting tested in the first place because they fear the continued and rising stigma associated with this illness. I believe this may be a contributing factor as to why the Manitoba HIV Report indicates many new patients are being diagnosed after the illness has progressed significantly, resulting in increased costs to our health-care system.
In Canada, more than 25 per cent of HIV positive people do not know their status. If someone is sexually active, they cannot assume the law will protect them. Reducing the risk of transmission is something every sexually active adult should practise. When every consenting adult decides to "play safe" the risk is reduced dramatically.
The law as it currently stands results in different standards when viral load is part of the consideration. Viral load is dramatically reduced when a person is on medication. While it has been scientifically proven to significantly reduce the risk of transmission, the fact is people living in some provinces of Canada (including Manitoba) face increased financial barriers to access affordable medications to treat the illness.
In B.C., for example, HIV medication is provided free of charge to anyone diagnosed with this illness. This has resulted in a significant reduction in new infections in B.C. The trend is going in the other direction in our province.
If public policy is based on following the science and not the fear, I believe we can make significant reductions in new infections and treat those afflicted with this illness with dignity and respect.