Objectives To review the extant literature on HIV criminal laws, and to determine the impact of these laws on public health practice.
Methods The available research on this topic was obtained and reviewed.
Results The extant literature addressed three main topics: people's awareness of HIV criminal laws; people's perceptions of HIV criminal laws; and the potential effects of HIV criminal laws on people's sexual, HIV-status disclosure and healthcare-seeking practices. Within these categories, the literature demonstrated a high level of awareness of HIV criminal laws, but a poor comprehension of these laws. For perceptions, on the whole, the quantitative research identified support for, while the qualitative literature indicated opposition to, these laws. Lastly, the behavioural effects of HIV criminal laws appear to be complex and non-linear.
Conclusions A review of the extant literature from a public health perspective leads to the conclusion that HIV criminal laws undermine public health.
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