HIV/Aids bill tabled in Rajya Sabha

A long-awaited legislation that seeks to end stigma and discrimination against HIV positive persons in workplace, hospitals and society, while also ensuring their privacy was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

The legislation encourages high-risk individuals like commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men and injectable drug users to come out in the open and seek medical care by exempting them from the purview of the bill.

Health care workers, who counsel the high-risk individuals and provide them with condoms and clean syringe and needles, are exempted.

“At present, India is estimated to have 2.39 million people living with HIV/AIDS, the third highest number after South Africa and Nigeria. Currently the epidemic is more prevalent in high risk groups. It is therefore important for these groups to access services such as treatment of sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing, condoms, clean needles and syringes to prevent transmission of HIV to the general population,” union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said in the statement of object and reasons of the bill.

The bill prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on the HIV status and makes it clear a competent and positive person can be removed only if the individual possess “significant risk of transmission of HIV” to other persons in the workplace or if his identity is kept under wraps.

As the route of transmission is primarily sexual, there is a stigma arising out of HIV infection and those affected by it, leading to discrimination.

This includes denying access to health care, expulsion from jobs, refusing school admission for children and denying insurance and medical benefits both in public and private sector.

The legislation prohibits “certain specific acts of HIV-related discrimination” and disclosure of HIV status to ensure confidentiality and privacy.

The draft obligates establishments to provide safe working environment for HIV positive people, guard their rights, particularly that of women and children who are unfortunate victims of an infected male member of the family.

Every state should appoint one or more Ombudsman on HIV/AIDS, who can probe violations of this act and give orders.

There is also a special provision to ensure HIV positive women or children are not thrown out of the house by other members of the family.

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