Guyana's Parliament has rejected a proposal that would have made it a crime to knowingly infect someone with HIV, saying it would lead to further discrimination and discourage voluntary testing.
The South American country has one of the highest HIV rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, with an estimated 13,000 people infected out a total population of 745,000.
Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy praised last night's vote, saying such a law would only worsen the stigma of HIV and encourage people to avoid testing.
"This in turn can lead to increased spreading of HIV from those who do not know their status," Ramsammy said.The United Nations' Caribbean office congratulated legislators on making what it called "a mature and measured decision."
"Such a law would have deepened the climate of denial, secrecy and fear surrounding the virus in Guyana," it said in a statement.Opposition legislators did not vote on the proposal because of an unrelated boycott.
"Ironically, a measure meant to reduce the spread of HIV could have led to its increase."
Ramsammy noted that in the earlier days some countries had criminalised transmission but he added research has failed to show that they have made any difference.
‘The evidence is that in countries where there are no criminalisation laws more and considerable progress has been made; Guyana and many Caribbean countries stand out among these countries,” he stated.
The minister pointed out that an increasing number of those countries are now rethinking those laws with Denmark earlier this year suspending a provision in their law. There has also been concerns in the US, Switzerland and Norway while at least three African countries - Guinea, Togo and Senegal - have revised or adopted their laws on HIV to restrict criminalisation to exceptional cases, he added.
On decriminalising homosexuality, the Government of Guyana committed at the Universal Periodic Review at the UN in Geneva in May last year to “hold consultations on this issue over the next two years”.
Last year The Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) filed suit in the Supreme Court to have a law on 'cross-dressing' declared unconstitutional.