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Awareness and understanding of HIV non-disclosure case law among people living with HIV who use illicit drugs in a Canadian setting

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • S Patterson
  • A Kaida
  • G Ogilvie
  • R Hogg
  • V Nicholson
  • S Dobrer
  • T Kerr
  • J Shoveller
  • J Montaner
  • MJ Milloy
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/05/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Drug Policy
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)113-121
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/03/17
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that people living with HIV (PLWH) could face criminal charges if they did not disclose their serostatus before sex posing a “realistic possibility” of HIV transmission. Condom-protected vaginal sex with a low (i.e., <1500 copies/mL) HIV viral load (VL) incurs no duty to disclose. Awareness and understanding of this ruling remain uncharacterized, particularly among marginalized PLWH. Methods We used data from ACCESS, a community-recruited cohort of PLWH who use illicit drugs in Vancouver. The primary outcome was self-reported awareness of the 2012 SCC ruling, drawn from cross-sectional survey data. Participants aware of the ruling were asked how similar their understanding was to a provided definition. Sources of information from which participants learned about the ruling were determined. Multivariable logistic regression identified factors independently associated with ruling awareness. Results Among 249 participants (39% female), median age was 50 (IQR: 44–55) and 80% had a suppressed HIV VL (<50 copies/mL). A minority (112, 45%) of participants reported ruling awareness, and 44 (18%) had a complete understanding of the legal obligation to disclose. Among those aware (n = 112), newspapers/media (46%) was the most frequent source from which participants learned about the ruling, with 51% of participants reporting that no healthcare providers had talked to them about the ruling. Ruling awareness was negatively associated with VL suppression (AOR:0.51, 95% CI:0.27,0.97) and positively associated with recent condomless sex vs. no sex (AOR:2.00, 95% CI:1.03,3.92). Conclusion Most participants were not aware of the 2012 SCC ruling, which may place them at risk of prosecution. Discussions about disclosure and the law were lacking in healthcare settings. Advancing education about HIV disclosure and the law is a key priority. The role of healthcare providers in delivering information and support to PLWH in this legal climate should be further explored.