Laws Based on HIV Status Around the Globe

Discrimination (unequal treatment) based on HIV status continues to be an issue globally. Many countries have adopted laws barring discrimination against people based on their HIV status. But there are still countries that have laws and policies that discriminate against people with HIV. Some criminalize (make illegal) having HIV.

The truth is policies that discriminate against HIV status lead to worse health outcomes for people who have HIV.

How do discriminatory laws affect people with HIV?

People with HIV who live in places where there are laws discriminating against them are less likely to seek healthcare. This includes HIV prevention, testing, and treatment. There are multiple reasons that people may not seek healthcare. They may fear judgment or lack of privacy about their status. They may be denied healthcare for having HIV.1

If someone with HIV encounters discrimination when seeking healthcare, they may not want to try again. And if that happens, they may not get consistent treatment for their HIV. Women and girls can be especially vulnerable. That is because having HIV often leads to an unfair judgment of their moral character.1

People with HIV who live in places with discriminatory laws are less likely to be employed. They are also more likely to be denied employment to certain jobs or denied promotions based on their status. Some companies will require mandatory HIV testing for employment. This can disqualify a person with HIV from getting a job.1

Young people and children with HIV are less likely to finish school in places with laws that discriminate against people with HIV. They are also more likely to be barred from school completely. This can be worse for girls and for people who are gender-fluid or transgender.1

What are the trends in HIV laws internationally?

Many countries have laws that discriminate against or criminalize HIV status. Region by region:2,3

  • The Asia-Pacific region has 13 countries and regions that have HIV criminalization laws. Six countries are actively enforcing these laws.
  • Africa has 30 countries that have specific HIV criminalization laws. Ten countries actively enforce these laws. Three countries have laws that have been recently canceled or challenged.
  • Eastern Europe and Central Asia have 16 countries with HIV criminalization laws. Twelve countries enforce these laws.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean have 15 countries with HIV criminalization laws. Only 2 countries are actively enforcing these laws. One country has recently canceled its HIV laws.
  • The Middle East has 7 countries with HIV criminalization laws. Only 1 country is actively enforcing these laws.
  • North America has 1 country that has HIV criminalization laws. Federal law in the United States protects people with HIV from discrimination. However, 24 US states have HIV criminalization laws.
  • There are no HIV criminalization laws in Western and Central Europe.

Many of these laws are specific to a person with HIV, not disclosing their status to a partner or exposing someone to HIV, on purpose or not.2

How changing these laws saves lives

Laws that discriminate against people with HIV or criminalize having HIV continue to be a barrier to ending the HIV epidemic. Countries that have adopted laws against discrimination and that have decriminalized having HIV have better health outcomes for people with HIV.1,2

Decriminalizing HIV status and making laws against discrimination protect anyone who has HIV. They also protect the most vulnerable people with HIV. These groups including women, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and refugees. Group members are then more likely to have access to care, from testing to treatment. These laws can save lives and help stop the transmission of HIV.1

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.