LA Legislature Misses Mark on HIV

Jackie Brant, Columnist

In a fight to end the stigmatization of HIV and AIDS, Democratic lawmakers in Los Angeles are seeking to pass legislation that would reduce the charge for not telling your partner that you have HIV before engaging in unprotected sex from a felony to a misdemeanor. This law would also apply to situations in which HIV positive individuals donate blood or semen. While the stigmatization of HIV and AIDS is an issue that needs to be addressed, the lawmakers’ proposal is not a suitable answer to the problem.

Proponents of the bill argue that with the advancements of modern medicine, HIV is treatable. Currently, there are 18.2 million people worldwide on medications for the illness. These medications are generally effective, cutting down deaths from AIDS from 2 million in 2005 to 1.1 million last year. The daily drug PrEP may decrease this number even more in coming years, as it can prevent HIV infection for those who do not already have it if taken daily. Further, the lawmakers argue that these laws are discriminatory because HIV is the only illness that has legislation like this passed against it.

There is still an unfair stigma that greatly affects HIV positive individuals. For instance, many people assume that HIV is only associated with homosexuality, drug use and infidelity. These stereotypes can severely impact individuals with the illness in ways such as job loss, divorce or separation, poor health care options and damaged reputation.

While it is undeniable that HIV stigma needs to be addressed, I find it difficult to justify taking action in the way that these lawmakers are proposing. One of the responsibilities of government is to protect its citizens lives to the best of its ability. This goes for both the quality of life and the length of life, and HIV can affect both. When people who are aware of their HIV engage in unprotected sexual activity without telling their partner, they knowingly impact their partner’s life. Ultimately, this is an issue of consent. Without knowing the ramifications of sexual activity, lack of communication amounts to a violation.

Another issue is the expense and effectiveness of HIV and AIDS treatment. HIV treatment plans typically span from about $2,000 to $5,000 per month according to the Los Angeles Times, and the typical lifetime cost of treatment nowadays is $379,000 according to Further, HIV still remains a deadly condition, as treatment does not guarantee a typical lifespan and many people still die from the illness worldwide. These individuals must figure out how to pay for their treatment plans and manage their illness every day.

When HIV positive individuals knowingly do not tell their partner before engaging in unprotected sex, their actions pass on a significant and lifelong financial burden to their partner. Though other illnesses affect individuals in similar ways as well, the transmission of HIV in these cases could have been prevented by open and honest discussion.

Though I find the lawmakers’ approach to be a potential threat to public health, there are other essential steps that should be taken to fight the stigmatization of HIV. One of the biggest improvements needed is education about HIV.

Before coming to Oberlin, I knew so little about the topic that I did not even know that HIV and AIDS were not interchangeable terms. As a college student, I have never been formally educated about HIV at any level. Currently, in Ohio, it is left up to each school district to manage sex education, which includes HIV education. This essentially means that every district in Ohio can decide whether or not they want to offer sex education in schools or not.

The fight to end the stigmatization of HIV needs to start with formal education. Education about the subject should include ways that HIV can be transmitted, HIV prevention and treatment options and their effectiveness, and ways to emotionally and legally support individuals who have HIV. The national recommendation for when kids begin learning about HIV is fifth grade. All schools should be required to follow this national recommendation. This would be a huge step in the right direction toward ending the stigmatization of HIV, could help stop its spread and hopefully help lead to the end of HIV altogether.