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Swedish law behind rise in HIV cases: experts

Swedish law behind rise in HIV cases: experts

Published: 01 Dec 2010 15:15 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Dec 2010 15:15 GMT+01:00

Four experts on HIV and criminal law have called for an overhaul of the law against infectious diseases act on World AIDS Day, alleging that the duty of disclosure has resulted in a spike in new Swedish HIV cases.

"Today, when there is effective treatment, HIV is no longer a fatal disease. There is no study that shows that punishment for HIV transmission reduces the spread of the virus," wrote Inger Forsgren, Anders Karlsson, Åsa Regnér and Per Ole Träskman in a opinion piece published in the Dagens Nyheter daily on Wednesday.

Forsgren is the chairperson of HIV-Sweden, Karlsson the head doctor of Södersjukhuset's Venhälsan, Regnér the general secretary of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning, RFSU) and Träskman a criminal law professor at Lund University.

"The law against infectious diseases should undergo a thorough overhaul, the duty to inform abolished and only those who deliberately transmit HIV prosecuted," they added.

Agneta Holmström, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), said that she does not know if the duty of disclosure, which requires all those thought to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease to come forward for testing in order to track the spread, has resulted in a spike in HIV cases.

"That's something for the government department to look into if they decide to look over this act. But our agency, we will continue to look into this and talk to the Swedish Institute of Infectious Disease Control (Smittskyddsinstitutet - SMI) to do a study," she told The Local on Wednesday.

She added that occasionally, it may involve a misunderstanding when it comes to ordering people to test for STDs, such as having the wrong address on file for the individual.

Among all STDs, Holmström said the one that poses the greatest concern in Sweden remains chlamydia because the general population are "very much aware" of the risks involved with the other diseases, saying that HIV is stable in Sweden aside from occasion outbreaks among drug users.

"They don't think chlamydia is a serious disease, it's not life-threatening, they don't think they have to go and get tested. There has been an explosion in the last few years since 2007. It is very difficult to find the people you have relations with," she said.

Sweden's first HIV case was diagnosed in 1982, before AIDS was properly diagnosed by the US Centers for Disease Control. Slightly more than 5,000 people in Sweden currently live with AIDS, said Viveca Urwitz, the former head of the SMI's HIV prevention unit.

Up until December 2009, a total of 8,935 HIV infection cases had been reported in Sweden, of which 30 percent involved women and 2,310 were diagnosed as AIDS. A total of 486 new cases were reported last year.

Slightly more than 50 percent of the new cases were reported in Stockholm, 14 percent in Västra Götaland and Skåne and the remainder across the country.

Urwitz revealed that more than half of all new diagnosed HIV cases in Sweden every year are among new migrants from high-risk countries, with Thailand and Ethiopia the two most common.

"A lot of them don't know, some do and some don't," Urwitz told The Local regarding HIV-infected migrants to Sweden.

She emphasised that these migrants are not refugees, but those who come to Sweden for family or work purposes.

Overall, the number of people living with HIV in Sweden is slowly growing, particularly among high-risk groups such as men who have sex with other men, intravenous drug users and people who buy and sell sex.

Both Holmström and Urwitz believe that the government's measures to combat HIV and AIDS are effective, but Urwitz pointed out health care and education, the main drivers behind prevention, are decentralised in Sweden, so it is difficult to ensure the same treatment across the country.

Vivian Tse (vivian.tse@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:16 December 1, 2010 by locaxy
"Among all STDs, Holmström said the one that poses the greatest concern in Sweden remains chlamydia because the general population are "very much aware" of the risks involved with the other diseases, saying that HIV is stable in Sweden aside from occasion outbreaks among drug users."

Sloppy journalism! "Drug users" in Sweden are mostly boozers and caffeinated people. The same way "drug users" in Bolivia are mostly coca chewing and tobacco smoking people.

Even when only accounting for so-called illegal drugs, intravenous delivery is a tiny minority. 90%+ of people snort, smoke or ingest.
16:44 December 1, 2010 by SouthAfrican_in_Sweden
Disclosure is not necessary in South Africa. Following the current reasoning this means that there should be a reduction in new cases. It is very silly to focus on one thing that is important to you and assigning causality to it without thinking about what you are saying.

I think it would be better if more diseases are disclosed rather than fewer. This will reduce the risk of exploitation.
16:52 December 1, 2010 by calebian22
'It is very difficult to find the people you have relations with"

That is the problem in a nutshell. If you don't know it, don't hit it.
17:40 December 1, 2010 by engagebrain
Despite drug treatments having HIV is still causes many problems and is likely to reduce live expectancy and quality of life. I and I suspect others would be pretty angry if someone who knew they were HIV + failed inform me and, assuming I consented, failed to take suitable precautions.

The article states that there is no evidence that legal punishment alters transmission rates, but there is in fact simply no evidence either way. The basic assumption must be that the possibility of legal action does alter behavour - but only if there actually is action taken against those who pass on STDs.
22:43 December 1, 2010 by Tennin
No matter what type of STD someone has, they should be required to tell their partner about it. At least they have a chance to decide for themself if they want to still have sex or not, and to use protection.
22:57 December 1, 2010 by Rishonim
With the careless sexual behaviour in Sweden, I am surprised we don't have an AIDS pandemic here. One would think people are educated enough to know that dipping the stick without a rain coat has it consequences. I think people from poorer nations have better awareness of STD that here in Sweden.
08:38 December 2, 2010 by izbz
I think they should really be a law that every person should be tested for HIV, it is hard to say cause alot of people do not even know they have. Like say some even got it from blood transfusion in the early stage of AIDS pandemic specially in Asia. those migrating to Sweden should be really tested before being accepted.

But thank God that HIV positive can have the virus control by medication and the dedication of the doctor who are specialise in that, Hopefully they will be able to find a cure for this curse,

Blaming it on Ethopia or Thailand is not really the main thing but blame that on ourselves for not using condom. Maybe can blame it on the monkeys that startedf all that instead!!!!!!
09:00 December 2, 2010 by Snöregn
KEEP the duty to inform. If anyone is sick, there IS a duty to inform, ETHICALLY!

And a pandemic will arise if the country continues to believe that the disease will never touch us in Sweden because it "comes from immigrants" or "man on man" relations or unless you have "had sex with an African".

Demand to be tested and may Sweden smell their own coffee!
21:48 December 2, 2010 by Da Goat
They should treat Aids like Foot and mouth and wipe it out!

the population control bit of it is gone and only the milk the poor saps money bit is left!
20:23 December 3, 2010 by sureiam
every infectous disease person should be encountable in front of the law NOT only HIV......................................

IN MY MIND I BELIEVE THE IS AS INGORANT AS ANYONE ELSE IN THE STREET ABT HIV:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

So o finger picking...............all people that have not been close to loved one who affected with this "not deadly desease, shall never know abt it and will never make effort to know abt it , they will just remain as ignorant as i the 70s and 80s when it was deadly.........................................and high 5, tumb up for HIV infectious people in Sweden or other countries of remaining unknown!!!!!!!!!
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