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The Impact of HIV Non-Disclosure Case Law on the Healthcare Engagement of Women Living with HIV in Canada

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Introduction: In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) expanded the reach of criminal liability for HIV non-disclosure in Canada when it ruled that people living with HIV (PLWH) who do not disclose their HIV status before sex that has a “realistic possibility” of HIV transmission could face criminal charges, suggesting that condom-protected vaginal sex with a low HIV viral load would incur no legal obligation to disclose. This thesis sought to identify the prevalence and correlates of facing a legal obligation to disclose, and to investigate awareness, understanding and perceived healthcare impacts of the 2012 SCC ruling among the diversity of women living with HIV (WLWH) in Canada, involving WLWH as key research partners.Methods: Quantitative data from men and women enrolled in a cohort of PLWH who use illicit drugs in Vancouver (ACCESS), and women enrolled in a community-collaborative cohort of WLWH in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec (CHIWOS), were used to meet the objectives of this thesis. Novel community-driven questions assessing awareness, understanding and perceived impacts of HIV non-disclosure case law were incorporated into data collection instruments of both cohorts. Results: Among ACCESS participants who use injection drugs (n=176), WLWH were more likely to face a legal obligation to disclose compared to men in the wake of the 2012 SCC ruling. Among female ACCESS (n=98) and CHIWOS (n=584) participants, awareness of the 2012 SCC ruling (44% and 74%, respectively) and understanding of the conditions under which PLWH may face a legal obligation to disclose (17% and 35%, respectively) were suboptimal. Although most participants were engaged in HIV treatment and care, discussions about HIV disclosure and the law were lacking in healthcare settings, despite participants expressing a willingness and desire to engage in discussions of this nature with providers. Most participants believed that HIV non-disclosure case law might limit the type of information WLWH would share with providers.Discussion: This thesis identified an urgent need to disseminate information about HIV non-disclosure and the law in community and healthcare settings, to ensure WLWH have fundamental information to avoid prosecution and to optimise their health and rights in the current legal climate.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Kaida, Angela
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