In efforts to strengthen public health legislature for the HIV community, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017. The Bill had been passed by the Rajya Sabha on March 22 earlier this year. “It will empower the people affected with the disease by giving them legal sanctity,” Health Minister J P Nadda had said in his reply to the debate in Lok Sabha. The bill is significant since India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world.
What is the Bill for?
Introduced by Senior Congress leader and former health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2014, the Bill seeks to prevent the spread and control of HIV in the country. According to the UNAIDS Gap Report, there were close to 2.1 million people living with HIV in India till 2015. While there had been 68, 000 AIDS related deaths in 2015, 86,000 new people had acquired HIV infections. These statistics show how crucial the HIV Bill becomes for those who suffer from this disease and bear the social stigma attached to it. The Bill also seeks to criminalise discrimination against HIV community.
What are the latest provisions?
1. The Bill makes anti-retroviral therapy a legal right of HIV/AIDS patient and states that “every person in the care and custody of the state shall have right to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and counselling services.” It also asks the central and state governments to provide such treatment along with along with infection management. The Bill also asks the state and central governments to facilitate access for the HIV/AIDS community to welfare schemes. Nadda said the government has spent Rs 2, 000 crore on Anti Retroviral Therapy drugs for such patients last year.
2. The Bill defines what can count as discrimination against HIV positive people and people living with it. It lists that denial or discontinuation of employment, education, healthcare services, renting or residing property, standing for public or private office will count as discrimination along with unfair treatment in any of the above mentioned categories. The Bill also prohibits HIV testing being used as a pre-requisite for securing a job, accessing health care or education.
3. It gives the right to minors to reside in a shared household and prohibits people from spreading any hate against them.
4. Considering the taboo around the disease in our country, the Bill states that no person shall have to undergo HIV test or medical treatment without one’s informed consent. An HIV positive person shall have to disclose his HIV status only if required by a court order. However, informed consent does not include screening by licensed blood banks, medical research or any such purpose where the test is anonymous and not meant to determine the said person’s HIV status.
What do critics say?
Activists from the HIV community had demanded changes to the Section 14 (1) of the Bill which states, “The measures to be taken by the central or state governments under section 13 shall include measures for providing, as far as possible, anti-retroviral therapy and opportunistic management to people living with HIV or AIDS.” The HIV community and other critics demanded that the phrase “as far as possible” be removed from the Bill.
During a discussion in Rajya Sabha, CPI leader D Raja had said that the phrase defeated the purpose of the bill. “This is an escape route provided to state governments which do not want to fulfill their responsibility,” Raja had said. On Wednesday, Nadda made verbal commitment that all affected by the disease shall receive the treatment free of cost. “We do not have to write this in the Bill,” said Nadda. “We stand committed [to providing free treatment to HIV positive people],” he was quoted as saying by Scroll.in
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