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Norwegian activists call for repeal of HIV law

Century-old law works against prevention, they say

Activists in Norway are calling for the repeal of a 1902 law on infectious diseases they say is being used to attack people with HIV.

Section 155 of the Norwegian penal code states that, “Any person who, having sufficient cause to believe that he is a bearer of a generally contagious disease, willfully or negligently infects or exposes another person to the risk of infection shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years if the offence is committed willfully and to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years if the offence is committed negligently.”

The section goes on to state that, “Any person who aids and abets such an offence shall be liable to the same penalty. If the aggrieved person is one of the offender’s next-of-kin, a public prosecution shall be instituted only at the request of the aggrieved person unless it is required in the public interest.”

The group HIV Manifesto is calling for the Norwegian government to remove the section.

Its manifesto states, “This legal paragraph was introduced in 1902 in order to protect the society from the public threat of infectious diseases. However it has only been applied in cases involving HIV, and is often referred to as the
‘HIV paragraph.’

“It has never been documented that Section 155 prevents HIV transmission. On the contrary there are reasons to believe that it imposes several negative consequences for both individuals and society.”

HIV Manifesto claims the law actually works against HIV prevention.

“The paragraph produces a false safety for HIV-negatives, who assume that HIV-positives have and will show the full responsibility to avoid HIV transmission; hence it contributes to deteriorating use of safer sex,” states the group. “The law makes some people think it is better not to test for HIV, to avoid the risk of being punished by this law.”

“The law takes the attention away from the real challenges, in particularly the psychosocial ones. The risk of being punished also makes some people reluctant to inform about their sexual partners, and hence the paragraph can inhibit the determination of the transmission source. The paragraph undermines more efficient actions to prevent HIV transmission.”