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Letter to the Editor, March 30, 2021: HIV penalty clause hurts bill's effectiveness
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Letter to the Editor, March 30, 2021: HIV penalty clause hurts bill's effectiveness

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HIV penalty clause

hurts bill's effectiveness

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

As a medical professional, I was proud to see the progress of Senate Bill 1138 during this year’s General Assembly. The bill modernizes ineffective and discriminatory laws used against people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and is an important step to reducing barriers and stigma for HIV prevention and care, especially for communities of color.

But more can be done. As the legislation moved through Virginia’s House and Senate, lawmakers inserted a Class 6 felony penalty connected to HIV transmission in the final bill.

Through my work, I know that when people's health is criminalized, they avoid testing and treatment because they fear police and criminal penalties. While many elements of the bill support public health, the felony penalty will continue to deter people from accessing testing.

The HIV epidemic remains a significant public health issue, one that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, LGBTQ people, people who use drugs and sex workers. When you have laws that criminalize something that already disproportionately is impacting vulnerable communities, those people will bear the brunt of prosecutions.

Before Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill, I strongly urge him to remove the felony statute to help improve public health and to advance racial equity in our state.

Georgia McIntosh, M.D.

VCU Health.

Richmond.

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