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Amended HIV, AIDS Bill, a good augury

Last Updated : 13 October 2016, 18:04 IST
Last Updated : 13 October 2016, 18:04 IST

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India has done well to take robust steps to safeguard the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. Last week, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, that could go some way in preventing discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS. People with HIV/AIDS suffer immensely. Not only is the syndrome deadly and debilitating but its treatment is also expensive and often beyond the reach of the common woman and man. In addition, there are the many myths surrounding the virus and the syndrome, which have contributed to discrimination and even social ostracism of patients and their kin. People living with HIV/AIDS are denied education and employment. Their children are often subjected to isolation and denied admission to schools. Such isolation and ostracism is based on the misperception that the mere touch of a person with HIV/AIDS or breathing the same air can cause others to get infected. The amendments to the HIV and AIDS Bill, 2014, are aimed at preventing such discrimination. Denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment with regard to employment, education, healthcare, residing or renting property, standing for public or private office and provision of insurance are forbidden under the amended bill.

The bill seeks to bring in legal accountability and provides for the setting up of a formal mechanism to probe complaints against those who discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS. A person found guilty of discrimination could be jailed for up to two years. The bill also frees people with HIV/AIDS from mandatory medical tests as a pre-requisite for jobs and education. Information regarding one’s HIV/AIDS status need not be disclosed unless the indivi-dual gives her informed consent for such a disclosure or the court orders such information to be revealed.

The bill says that the Union and state governments shall take measures to provide anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and infection management for those with HIV or AIDS. This is welcome. However, the bill does not say whether this will be available to patients as a matter of right or only to the extent it will be possible for governments to extend such support. Treatment must be extended as a right to patients. At present, just around half of India’s estimated 2.1 million HIV-positive patients are receiving free treatment. The rest are unlikely to be able to afford such treatment.

The text of the bill must be amended further to make it mandatory for the government to extend free treatment to all patients. The government must spread public awareness about the HIV and AIDS bill. That would
bring real change in the lives of those with HIV/AIDS.
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Published 13 October 2016, 18:04 IST

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