The Health Ministry has started implementing of a historic HIV/AIDS bill, which passed in the Rajya Sabha in March. The bill offers comprehensive state provided care to HIV patients. In addition, social protections are to be put in place that would seek to prevent discrimination against HIV positive individuals.
India has a relatively low HIV prevalence of 0.26 percent. However, owing to its large population, this translates to a HIV-positive population of 21 lakh (2.1 million) – the third largest population of HIV patients in the world.
The bill was controversial upon its inception. One particular aspect of its wording was strongly criticised. In section 14 (1) the bill references a HIV patient’s right to state-funded treatment. However, it stipulates that treatment would only be provided “as far as possible”.
“India has a relatively low HIV prevalence of 0.26 percent. However, owing to its large population, this translates to a HIV-positive population of 21 lakh (2.1 million) – the third largest population of HIV patients in the world.”
This wording was criticised by legal groups as campaigners considered the clause a legal backdoor to step down from any government pledge to maintain free treatment. Tripti Tandon of Lawyers’ Collective said “[The clause] gives an opening to the government to evade any accountability.”
These fears of legal loopholes have diminished since the publishing of the latest incarnation of the bill. The new wording states “Every person in the care and custody of the state shall have right to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and counselling services.” The new wording solidly states that HIV patients will have the right to treatment at every stage.
The act also provides a comprehensive explanation of the process of reporting discrimination against HIV patients, as well as explicating what this discrimination entails. Notably, the act also considers the communicable nature of the disease. To this end it states that medically advised safeguards and precautions to minimise the risk of infection would not construe discrimination.
“The new wording solidly states that HIV patients will have the right to treatment at every stage.”
Those with HIV can now report discrimination targeted against them in the fields of employment, health care services, educational services, public facilities, property rights, holding public office, and insurance.
The Act also sets out measures for the penalisation of “propagation of hatred” against HIV positive individuals. Violators could be punished with a minimum jail term of up to two years and can be fined up to one lakh rupees (1,376 USD).
The bill offers hope for HIV patients. Not only does it address the previous issues of loopholes in government-funded treatment, it also places power in the hands of the affected individuals to report discrimination. This can entail an improvement in the living situation of the country’s sizeable HIV-positive population, moving the nation a step forward to ensuring the equity and wellbeing of those with HIV.