The right to health
The right to the highest attainable standard of health
Every country in the world is now party to at least one human rights treaty that addresses health. However, the criminalization of HIV transmission or exposure does not recognize, and can reinforce, barriers and inequalities to accessing health services.
Criminalization adds to the stigmatization of HIV, which in itself acts as a barrier to testing, treatment and support. The threat of prosecution can prevent people living with HIV from feeling confident in discussing concerns about their sexual health with doctors. It also restricts the potential success of partner notification programmes, which can work to stop onward transmission and promote early testing, by discouraging people from being open about the sexual partners they have had.
In the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), the right to health is defined as the right to the highest attainable level of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Significantly this definition implies that stigma in and of itself can be seen as a human rights violation, as well as any acts of discrimination that it may generate.