Catherine Hanssens, 347.622.1400 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Strub, 646-642-4915 email@example.com
New York, February 9, 2010 – Leading public health officials and advocates for people with HIV responded swiftly to news that a Montana state legislator, while testifying in favor of retaining the state’s death penalty statute, suggested that prisoners with HIV make paper “blow darts”, put their blood or saliva on them and throw them at prison guards in an attempt to kill them.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, HIV is not transmitted by saliva, and HIV in blood dies quickly after being exposed to air. HIV-infected blood does not survive outside the body long enough to cause harm, unless it penetrates mucus membranes.
The Positive Justice Project, a program of the New York-based Center for HIV Law & Policy, is a coalition of more than 40 public health, civil liberties and HIV/AIDS organizations combating HIV criminalization and the creation of a “viral underclass”; they oppose laws that treat people with HIV different from how those who do not have HIV, or who do not know their HIV status, are treated.
The Center’s executive director, Catherine Hanssens, said “Rep. Janna Taylor’s remark is ignorance in the first degree. Quite frankly, it is typical of the ignorance we had to deal with decades ago, early in the epidemic, when little was known about how the virus was transmitted. It is astonishing that an elected official today could be so fundamentally uninformed.”
Julie M. Scofield, executive director of the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), said “My plea to Rep. Taylor and legislators at all levels concerned about HIV is to do your homework, talk with public health officials and get the facts. Spreading fear about HIV transmission will only set us back in the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Montana and every other state in the U.S.”
Other experts from Montana and national organizations also commented on Rep. Taylor’s remarks:
“Ms Taylor’s statement just shows the need for greater support and funding for HIV education and prevention in the State of Montana. Unfortunately, misinformation such as this is all too prevalent, leading to pointless discrimination and myth-based fears and policies. After 30 years of dealing with HIV, the public should be much better informed about its transmission. No wonder HIV infection rates haven’t stopped.”
— D Gregory Smith, MA co-chair of the Montana HIV/AIDS Community Planning Group, a licensed mental health counselor and a person living with HIV
“I am disturbed and disappointed to hear such misinformation coming from a local government official, but sadly I am not especially surprised. As we enter the 30thyear of this worldwide epidemic I am frequently reminded of the need for continued education and outreach, the facts are still not clearly understood by the general masses. Perhaps if we were more willing as a society to discuss more openly the risk behaviors that transmit the virus we would not find ourselves responding to such an insensitive and false statement.”
— Christa Weathers, Executive Director, Missoula AIDS Council, missoulaaidscouncil.org
“HIV infected blood cannot infect someone through contact with intact skin or clothing if the skin underneath is intact.”
— Kathy Hall, PA-C, retired American Academy of HIV Medicine-certified HIV Specialist, Billings, MT
“The comments made by the Montana Legislator really demonstrate total ignorance about how HIV is transmitted. If elected officials don’t understand the basic facts, how can we expect young people and those at greatest risk to understand them?”
— Frank J. Oldham, Jr., President, National Association of People with HIV/AIDS, napwa.org
“This is an example of people with HIV, especially those who are incarcerated, being stigmatized and used as fear-fodder by politicians whose ignorance and quickness to demonize people with HIV outweighs common sense and two minutes of Google research. Even when someone is exposed to HIV, a 28-day course of anti-HIV drugs used as post-exposure prophylaxis is effective in preventing HIV infection. It also isn’t a death sentence; those who acquire HIV today and have access to treatment generally don’t die from AIDS.”
— Sean Strub, founder of POZ Magazine, a 30 year HIV survivor and senior advisor to the Positive Justice Project.
The Positive Justice Project is the first coordinated national effort in the United States to address HIV criminalization, and the first multi-organizational and cross-disciplinary effort to do so. HIV criminalization has often resulted in gross human rights violations, including harsh sentencing for behaviors that pose little or no risk of HIV transmission.
For more information on the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s Positive Justice Project, go tohttp://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/public/initiatives/positivejusticeproject.
To see the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s collection of resources on HIV criminalization, go to:http://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/resourceCategories/view/2
The Positive Justice Project has been made possible by generous support from the M.A.C. AIDS Fund, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the van Ameringen Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. To learn more or join one of the Positive Justice Project working groups, email:firstname.lastname@example.org