In a significant stride forward, medical professionals and health advocates are witnessing advancements in their persistent endeavor to reform Ohio laws that disproportionately target individuals living with HIV.

These laws, many originating in the 1990s, are urgently due for reform owing to the progression of scientific understanding and medical interventions for HIV, as highlighted by members of the Ohio Health Modernization Movement (OHMM), a coalition dedicated to updating these laws. Not only are current statutes founded on outdated scientific premises, but they also contribute to the perpetuation of stigma surrounding the disease.

Nate Albright, an infectious disease nurse practitioner and predoctoral fellow at The Ohio State University, emphasizes the dehumanizing impact of these laws, particularly on individuals who often lack control over their circumstances. Furthermore, Albright underscores the discriminatory nature of laws related to HIV diagnosis, revealing that Black Ohioans constitute a disproportionately high percentage of those arrested for HIV-related offenses.

A report jointly released by the Equality Ohio Education Fund and OHMM underscores the pressing need for modernizing these laws to accurately reflect current scientific knowledge regarding HIV transmission routes and risks. It cites a glaring racial disparity in the enforcement and impact of charges under these laws compared to the general population.

The evolution of scientific understanding regarding HIV underscores the necessity for legislative reform. Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor of infectious disease at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine, and president of the Infectious Disease Society of Ohio, highlights the transformative advancements in HIV treatment since the mid-1990s. With over 50 FDA-approved medications developed since 1987, effective treatment significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

Despite the availability of low-cost or free HIV testing, outdated laws create barriers to testing and treatment, fostering stigma and fear. Fichtenbaum stresses the importance of relying on science rather than punitive measures to address public health challenges, citing the recent COVID-19 pandemic as a pertinent example.

Legislative reforms are underway, with two Republican-led bills introduced to amend criminal definitions targeting individuals with HIV and eliminate penalties for those attempting to donate blood or plasma despite being HIV-positive. These bills have garnered support from OHMM and aim to align Ohio’s laws with current scientific understanding and promote equitable treatment for individuals living with HIV.