HIV-related state laws are being created transnationally though the use of omnibus model laws. In 2004, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the creation of one such guidance text known as the USAID/Action for West Africa Region Model Law, or N'Djamena Model Law, which led to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS laws, including the criminalisation of HIV transmission, across much of West and Central Africa (2005–2010). In this article, I explicate how an epidemic of highly problematic legislation spread across the region as a result of a text-mediated work process enabled through model laws. I theorise the textual genre of model laws arguing that these texts are best understood as ‘preoperative documents’ which, when activated, can lead to swift legislative reform in and beyond the field of HIV/AIDS governance. The legislative process being investigated was made visible through participant observation, archival research, textual analysis and informant interviews with national and international stakeholders (n=32). This involved ethnographic research in Canada, the USA, Switzerland, Austria, South Africa and Senegal (2010–2011). The untold policy processes and narratives explored in this article make evident how the work of contesting problematic HIV/AIDS model laws and newly drafted state laws involves both creating new texts and contesting the legitimacy and efficacy of others.
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