HIV Criminalization Commentary – January 11

Dear Colleague,

January 11, 2021

Recently, The Lancet HIV published a commentary by authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) titled “HIV Criminalization Laws and Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States.” The article emphasizes the need to align HIV-specific criminal exposure laws with science and consider reforming, rescinding, and revising the application of relevant laws for the sake of people with HIV and for the public’s health.

During the early years of the HIV epidemic, many states implemented HIV-specific criminal exposure laws—HIV criminalization laws—to discourage behavior that we know cannot lead to transmission (such as biting or spitting), and, as a requirement for receiving  federal funds to support HIV treatment efforts. Many state laws do not reflect our current understanding of HIV science, and criminalization laws remain a barrier to HIV prevention and treatment efforts.  The U.S. Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative aims to reduce HIV incidence by 90%. To achieve this goal, there are scientific and programmatic barriers to HIV testing, treatment, and prevention to overcome. Legal obstacles, economic disadvantages, homophobia, stigma, and racial discrimination underpin many of the disparities we see in HIV in the country. HIV diagnoses among African Americans and Hispanic/Latino persons are more likely than among White people. Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women are also more likely to have HIV than heterosexual men or women. These disparities mean that HIV criminalization laws disproportionately affect persons of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations, potentially exacerbating discrimination.

Social and economic barriers directly prevent access to services and impede efforts to prevent and treat HIV. Ending the HIV epidemic will require community support, political will, and national action. HIV criminalization laws impede these efforts.

Read moreexternal icon about important commentary in its entirety.


/Jonathan Mermin/

Jonathan H. Mermin, M.D., MPH
Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


/Demetre Daskalakis/

Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH
Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Page last reviewed: January 11, 2021