‘Sweden must shed its HIV prejudice’: agency

HIV is no longer a life-threatening illness, but carriers in Sweden are still stigmatized due to a lack of knowledge, argue health officials, who are calling for changes in Sweden's legal system to take medical advances into account.

'Sweden must shed its HIV prejudice': agency

According to a new report from the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control (Smittskyddsinstitutet), HIV is no longer a life-threatening illness although the disease is still popularly viewed as something deadly despite major medical breakthroughs.

The agency wants to see changes to Swedish law and public perceptions in light of the fact the risk of catching HIV has decreased significantly in the last two decades.

It is estimated that 6,500 people in Sweden are HIV positive. According to Swedish law, it is a criminal offence for someone who knowingly carries HIV to have unprotected sex.

“An HIV diagnosis is no longer seen as a death sentence, like it was in the 1980s, as there is now effective medication which prevent the disease from developing,” said researchers from the agency in an op-ed published in Dagens Nyheter (DN).

HIV has been back in the spotlight recently following the success of Jonas Gardell’s Aids drama Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar).

A total of 20 percent of people surveyed for the communicable disease agency’s study said they would avoid contact with an HIV positive person, while 40 percent said HIV sufferers should avoid having sex.

Modern medical advances mean the risk of catching HIV is much lower than in the 1980s, provided the disease is discovered early and treated properly.

Researchers said better education of the risks and new treatments of HIV was essential to alter public opinion. A change in the law which currently penalizes HIV carries was also seen as an important step.

Earlier this year a HIV infected man in Malmö was sentenced to a year in prison and fined 150,000 kronor ($24,000) after he had sex with four people. He was being treated for the illness and none of the people became infected.

The ruling was appealed and the man has been released pending a verdict that will be given later this month that will either reduce the sentence or quash it entirely. The Court of Appeal (Hovrätten) made the decision after consulting experts from the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control.

Capturing the disease early and improving public perception are essential, the agency’s researchers argued, adding that “HIV is still a serious disease that requires lifelong treatment”.

The reports add that of the 6,500 HIV sufferers in Sweden, 90 percent of them are being treated and that the risk of them passing it on is minimal.

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