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Government revives HIV/AIDS Bill to make treatment a right

Bill lays down penal provisions for discrimination against HIV-positive people, breach of confidentiality.

The Bill was referred to the standing committee before the NDA government assumed office. (Representational Photo)

MORE THAN two years after it was first introduced in Parliament in the last days of the UPA government, the NDA has revived the HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, which makes antiretroviral treatment a legal right of HIV/AIDS patients.

Headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, a Group of Ministers (GoM) met for the first time Wednesday evening to iron out the kinks in the Bill, as pointed out by a parliamentary standing committee.

The Bill makes it obligatory for the central and state governments to provide for antiretroviral therapy (ART) and management of opportunistic infections (infections that take advantage of weakness in the immune system and occur frequently). It prohibits specific acts of discrimination by the state, or any other person, against HIV-positive people, or those living with such people.

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Antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of a combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus, and stop progression of the disease. The protection mandated in the Bill extends to the fields of employment, healthcare services, educational services, public facilities, property rights, holding public office, and insurance.

Apart from Jaitley, the GoM includes Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Science and Technology Minister Dr Harshvardhan, MoS in Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh, and Law and Justice Minister Ravishankar Prasad. The group will look into recommendations of the standing committee and ways to incorporate them in the existing Bill before sending it back to the Union Cabinet.

The Bill was referred to the standing committee before the NDA government assumed office. Since the earlier standing committee could not take it up once the Lok Sabha was dissolved, an extension was granted until April 30, 2015.

The committee, among other things, makes a strong recommendation for the ministry to take up the matter with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority so that people with HIV/AIDS can buy health insurance. “The committee is of the opinion that all HIV-positive people should be provided insurance cover without any discrimination, preferably at normal rate of premium, or they may be charged (a) slightly higher rate of premium,” the committee said in its 85th report, tabled in April 2015. But under no circumstances, it added, should an “exorbitant rate of premium” be charged for insurance cover – “for both life and health insurance”.

The Bill provides for confidentiality of HIV-related information and also makes it mandatory to get informed consent for undertaking HIV tests, medical treatment and research. It lays down penal provisions for any discrimination practised against a person with HIV/AIDS and breach of confidentiality.

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