The long-awaited, a crucial public health legislation guaranteeing equal rights to India’s HIV community – Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017 was passed by the Parliament.
Approximately 21 lakh people are living with HIV, as per government estimates. The adult prevalence is in the range of 0.3%, of which around 40% are women. Despite this enormous progress and the availability of testing and treatment, stigma and discrimination against HIV affected individuals in India remains widespread.
There is a need to provide an environment to such people in which they feel protected
Salient features of the Bill:
- Prohibition of discrimination against HIV positive persons:
- Discrimination against HIV positive persons and those living with them has been prohibited on various grounds.
- These include the denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment with regard to: (i) employment, (ii) educational establishments, (iii) health care services, (iv) residing or renting property, (v) standing for public or private office, and (vi) provision of insurance (unless based on actuarial studies).
- The stipulation for HIV testing as a pre-requisite for obtaining employment or accessing health care or education has been prohibited.
- Data Protection and Privacy
- Disclosure of HIV status shall only be permitted with the affected person’s informed consent, and if required, by a Court order. Establishment keeping records of information of HIV positive persons have been directed to adopt data protection measures.
- Positive Rights Conferred on persons with HIV
- HIV positive persons below the age of 18 years have the right to reside in a shared household, and enjoy the facilities of the household.
- Central and State Governments have been made responsible for
- preventing the spread of HIV or AIDS,
- providing anti-retroviral therapy and infection management for persons with HIV or AIDS,
- facilitating their access to welfare schemes especially for women and children,
- formulating HIV or AIDS education communication programmes that are age appropriate, gender sensitive, and non-stigmatizing, and
- Laying guidelines for the care and treatment of children with HIV or AIDS.
4. Court Proceedings
- Courts have been directed to dispose of on priority basis, cases relating to HIV positive persons. In any legal proceeding, if an HIV infected or affected person is a party, the Court may pass orders that the proceedings be conducted (a) by suppressing the identity of the person, (b) in camera, and (c) to restrain any person from publishing information that discloses the identity of the applicant.
- The complaints relating to violation of the Act, as well as the provision of health care services shall be inquired into by an ombudsman, who shall be appointed by each State Government. The ombudsman is expected to submit a report to the State Government every six months, stating the number and nature of complaints received, the actions taken and orders passed.
- Informed Consent
- It ensures that no HIV test, medical treatment or research will be conducted on a person without his informed consent. No person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required, by a court order.
Analysis of the law
- It is not the case that before coming of this bill, these people (infected with HIV) were not empowered. But with the passage of this bill they will get more powers.
- Legal and penal action against those who do not adhere to the provisions of the bill and for creating an environment against the HIV patients is a welcome measure.
- The protection would be provided to the people working in the health institutions. Facilities, secured environment and logistics would be provided.
What more could have been done?
India’s HIV community, however, confessed itself ‘disappointed’ as the Bill places an obligation on the State governments to provide treatment “as far as possible”, making it weak and open to interpretation.
- A concrete assurance and safeguard of treatment in the Indian Constitution with constitutional or legal status would have gone long way in assuring people that the government stands committed for free treatment of HIV patients.
- The Government should promote research to check HIV virus and come out with aggressive strategies on this, especially in high risk areas, counselling and testing.
- There is no coordination between the Centre and the states to deal with the HIV issue. Government should also look for insurance cover for the affected people with the premium being paid by the government.
- HIV Positive people should be given the right to adopt children.
- Currently the national HIV programme has weakened due to budget cuts, with recently India facing nationwide stock-outs of diagnostic kits and pediatric formulations of anti-retrovirals (ARTs). Budgetary allocation should increase. And the Bill doesn’t give legal options to patients in case stocks run out.
- Antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of a combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus, and stop progression of the disease.
- India runs second largest Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) programme in the world the rate of new HIV infections have dropped by 67%, from 2.5 lakh to 85,000 and AIDS related deaths have declined to 54%, which is more than the global average.
- The government spent Rs 2,000 crore on ART alone and this was a 100% centrally-sponsored scheme
- Under Goal 4 of the Millenium Development Goals, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis had to be arrested and reversed.
- There are 22,000 HIV testing centres in the country, which conducted 2.9 crore HIV tests, including 1.3 crore pregnant women.
- Indian Pharma industry has a big role to play in making cost-effective medicines available to the people