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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 14:05 GMT
HIV warning after legal ruling
Medical professionals have warned that HIV cases in Scotland could increase by more than a third after an historic legal ruling made it a criminal offence to knowingly pass on the infection.
Academics from the University of California said that some people could be put off taking HIV tests if they know a positive diagnosis could leave them open to future prosecution.
The team's warning came after a man who was HIV positive was convicted earlier this year of culpably and recklessly endangering the life of his former girlfriend by having unprotected sex with her.
The experts want the Scottish Executive to carry out a review of medical and legal procedures to ensure that people are not put off taking HIV tests.
The report stated: "Notification of partners can alert these people to their risk of HIV infection, but they can refuse an HIV test and thereby, despite knowing their high HIV risk, transmit infection with impunity before the law."
The report warned that as a result of the ruling the number of people testing positive for HIV could increase significantly.
It said: "If uptake of HIV tests fell as low as 40% new sexually transmitted infections might almost double."
The court case at the centre of the report's findings involved Stephen Kelly, 33, from Provanmill, in Glasgow.
In February, a jury at Glasgow High Court found him guilty of having unprotected sex with 34-year-old mother-of-three Anne Craig, even though he knew he was HIV positive.
Kelly was one of 14 inmates at Glenochil Prison, Clackmannanshire, who tested positive for the virus in 1993 after sharing needles with other drug users.
He became the first person to be tried under Scots law for culpable and reckless in infecting Ms Craig and was jailed for five years.
Referring to the case, the report in the BMJ said: "Miss Craig had hoped to prevent even one new infection.
"A 25% decrease in uptake of HIV testing by those who are infected could result in more than a one third increase in new sexually transmitted HIV infections - even if, in accordance with the Glenochil judgment, those tested always disclosed their infection to sexual partners."
The authors of the report have called on the Scottish Executive to take action to prevent a potential increase in the spread of the virus.
They said: "We urge Scotland's health minister to commission the necessary measurements to guide medical and legal decision making.
"This is a more responsible approach than waiting passively until we have evidence that infectious harm has been done."
The report concluded: "Far from protecting the public, the Glenochil judgment has endorsed abrogation of individual responsibility in sexual partnerships by asserting a legal duty of disclosure on the infected partner."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We will consider whether the issues raised by the study published in the British Medical Journal require advice or guidance to be issued.
"This case should not deter people from going for HIV testing however, we fully recognise the need to work to tackle any complacency that might exist regarding HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"That is why, in January this year, the executive stepped up the fight against this modern epidemic with a £7m investment in initiatives to tackle HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases."
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