The case of a man found guilty of causing serious harm to two former partners by infecting them with HIV was an “isolated incident”, says HIV Ireland.
HIV Ireland, which advocates for people living with HIV, believes the case that puts the spotlight on HIV transmission raises a number of issues.
The charity’s executive director, Niall Mulligan, said it was the first time an individual in Ireland had been convicted of causing harm by recklessly infecting someone with HIV.
“Whilst it will be for the court to determine the appropriate sentence, it is crucial to emphasise that this is an isolated incident,” said Mr Mulligan.
During the trial, the State argued that the 28-year-old man was aware of his diagnosis when he infected the women and that amounted to serious harm.
It was the first case of its kind in the country.
The man, who lives in Dublin, cannot be named to protect the identities of the complainants in the case.
He had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the two women on dates between November 2009 and June 2010.
After an 11-day trial, and just under four-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on both charges.
The maximum penalty for the offence is life. Judge Martin Nolan remanded the accused in custody pending an application for bail and said he would sentence the man before the end of the month.
However, Mr Mulligan said the case was less about HIV transmission per se, and more about one person recklessly and knowingly putting another person at risk.
“We know that people living with HIV, who are compliant with their treatment and have an undetectable viral load, cannot pass the virus on to someone else,” he said.
International HIV medical experts, including the Center for Disease Control in the US, agreed that when the virus could not be detected, it could not be transmitted.
The suppression of the virus followed treatment compliance.
Mr Mulligan said it was important to understand that an undetectable HIV virus means an untransmittable HIV virus.
“Without such understanding, myths about HIV transmission will continue to feed into the stigma around HIV which impacts negatively on the lives of over 5,000 people living with HIV in Ireland today,” he said.
During the court hearing, prosecution counsel Dominic McGinn SC submitted that expert witnesses had said all three parties had the same subtype and mutations of the virus.
Mr McGinn said the complainants had given “remarkably similar” accounts and said they used condoms with previous partners and there was no evidence that their previous partners were HIV-positive.
He said the man had lied to the complainants’ doctor about his positive diagnosis and “went through the charade” of being tested again for the virus in 2010.
“He knew full well he was HIV positive,” said Mr McGinn. “He was advised about having safe sex. He admitted that to gardaí and he was given anti-viral medication and he didn’t take it.”
At present in Ireland there is no obligation on a person with HIV to disclose their status to his or her sexual partners.