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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Sweden: Health agency criticised for not co-operating with police

The Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control has revealed in an article in a medical journal that they have refused to co-operate with police in tracking down individuals who may have broken Sweden's draconian public health and criminal HIV exposure and transmission laws. Following a public furore, they have now backtracked somewhat.

Articles from the Associated Press and The below.

Swedish health agency blasted for HIV stance

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — A Swedish health agency revealed in an article published Wednesday that it had refused to help police track down people who knowingly infect others with HIV.

The revelation triggered harsh criticism and the government agency, the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control, agreed later in the day to resume helping police.

Officials for the agency were quoted in a medical newspaper as saying they had declined to cooperate with police because they disagreed with current legislation that criminalizes the willful spread of the AIDS virus.

The report in the Dagens Medicin weekly sparked anger among prosecutors, police and government officials, who accused the institute of placing itself above the law.

The institute backtracked and its officials also clarified their position, saying they had no problem with the law itself, but believed the penalties for spreading HIV were too severe. The willful transmission of the virus is punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison.

Jan Albert, an expert at the agency, said the threat of imprisonment harms prevention efforts because some people who suspect they may have the virus refrain from getting tested for fear of prosecution.

Albert said the agency had declined to help police on many occasions, "but we've come to the understanding that we'll resume work with the police."

'Decriminalize spread of HIV': agency
Published: 22 Oct 08 11:38 CET

A Swedish government agency is refusing to assist the police in an ongoing investigation concerning a person suspected of infecting a woman with HIV.

Under current legislation, a person with HIV risks spending one to ten years in jail on assault charges if he or she knowingly has unprotected sex with another person.

"The criminalization of HIV makes preventive work more difficult. Also, sentences are very tough," Ragnar Norrby, director-general of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (SMI), told newspaper Dagens Medicin.

In a reversal of its previous policy, the disease control institute has recently refused to cooperate with prosecutors who requested information on a person suspected of spreading HIV.

"It is now our view that spreading HIV should not be classified as an offence," Jan Albert, SMI head physician and regional manager, told Dagens Medicin.

"It is at least as much the responsibility of the individual person to understand that unprotected sex involves risks," he added.

According to Ragnar Norrby, the threat of prosecution leads many people infected with HIV to remain anonymous, making it more difficult to trace the spread of the virus.

SMI also notes that the development of antiretroviral drugs has meant that HIV can no longer be equated to a death sentence.



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