HIV/AIDS Bill leaves room for misuse

The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, signed into law this week, will help to ensure the rights of HIV+ people, ban all kinds of discrimination against them and help provide them with medical treatment. The bill has been debated since 2014 and has incorporated some important suggestions that came up during the debate. There is a lot of misinformation and stigma attached to HIV because of which social exclusion and discrimination are common. The new law bans such discriminatory practices by the government, institutions or individuals in education, employment, health services and in all other areas and makes it a criminal offence. Such practices include denial or termination of rights and services and the demand to undergo HIV tests. The law also seeks to establish legal accountability and to set up formal mechanisms to probe complaints and redress grievances. 

The law almost meets the long-standing demand for free treatment of HIV patients. The World Health Organisation has advised all countries to provide free anti-retroviral treatment to all HIV diagnosed persons. In India, only critically-ill people, not all HIV+ patients, are entitled to get free retroviral drugs. The law takes a step forward but says that the government “shall include measures for providing as far as possible retroviral therapy to people.” This provides an escape clause for the government though health minister J P Nadda has promised that the rules under the law will be formed in such a way that no one with HIV will be denied treatment. In that case, the phrase need not have been there in the bill at all. There is a feeling that the clause will be used by governments to deny treatment to deserving persons. The Centre should have dropped it since there is no justification for it. It has also been pointed out that the non-discriminatory clauses in the bill do not match some discriminatory laws regarding communities such as homosexuals.

India has the third largest HIV population in the world with about 21 lakh affected people. Only over 35% of them are said to have received anti-retroviral treatment. There are also complaints about delay in the treatment because of the National Aids Control Organisation’s wrong policies of drug procurement. These issues should also be addressed. The law in itself may not ensure equal treatment of and respect for the rights of HIV affected persons. There should also be a sustained information campaign to support the aims and objectives of the law so that many wrong notions and attitudes in the society about HIV are removed.

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