Tuesday 4 July 2017

Can India ensure dignity to persons suffering with HIV

In April this year, India passed a law designed to protect the rights of persons living with HIV. In this post, we see what the law offers, what it leaves out and what are the promises government made to its citizen through this law. 
What is this new law?
The government of India passed “The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome(Prevention and Control) Act” in April 2017. This is applicable throughout the country. This law has been made to protect the human rights of persons having the disease and persons living with affected individuals.  
The government had started working on the bill since 2002. In 2006, a draft bill was prepared by Lawyers Collective, an NGO and the bill was put before the Rajya Sabha in 2014.
Why was it needed in India?
We just discussed that the government started thinking about the bill in 2002. It turns out, India had highest prevalence of Persons Living with HIV(PLHIV) of 0.38% among population between the age of 15-49 years in 2001-03. According to NACO, since 2001-03, AIDS has been constantly declining with PLHIV being 0.26% in 2015.
So, along the 15 years when the bill was pending, India managed to control the AIDS epidemic from spreading further.
With time and advances in the Anti-Retroviral Therapy, the prognosis for PLHIV has increased and mortality has decreased. So, this law comes at a perfect time to ensure that PLHIVs can live a life of dignity.  
What does the law do?
 This law aims to have a multi-pronged approach. Here’s a list of objectives dealt with in the act:
  1.  Prohibits discrimination by individuals, employers, persons living in households with PLHIV, health service providers, education or any other service providers. However, it allows insurers to not provide services to such individuals in case they can back up their claims by actuarial studies.
  2. Lays down rules regarding informed consent and disclosure of HIV status.
  3. Makes government responsible for providing ART and opportunistic infection management.
  4. Makes compliance guidelines for workplaces having more than 100 persons and high risk workplaces to limit the chance of spread of the disease.
  5. Calls for formation of an ombudsman at the state level to hear complaints regarding non-compliance with the act.
  6. Lays down criteria for special procedures in court for PLHIV.
  7. Incorporates special provisions like right to residence.
  8. Promotes actions which limit the chance of spread of HIV: Including provision of condoms, drug substitution and maintenance, supply of injections etc.
 What if people still do not comply with the law?
  •  Propagating hatred, violence or discrimination against PLHIV carries an imprisonment from 3 months to up to 2 years with or without fine which could be upto one lakh rupees.
  •  Fine for non-compliance with the order of ombudsman is INR 10,000 for first day and INR 5000 for every subsequent day.
  •  Disclosing HIV status of a person based on court records unless ordered by court can introduce fine up to 1,00,000.
 The offences under the act are cognizable and bailable.  Cognizable means that a police officer can arrest a person under this act without a warrant.
 What is the role of government under this act?
Both central and state governments have some responsibilities under this act as can be seen here:
Central Government
  1. Form a model HIV and AIDS policy for establishments keeping record of HIV related information.
  2. Issue protocols for diagnosis, ART and  opportunistic infection management for HIV and AIDS infected persons.
  3. Guidelines for care, support and treatment to children Protect the property of children affected by HIV and AIDS.
Central and State Government
  1. Frame schemes to address needs of infected and affected persons.
  2. Information, education and communication programs.
  3. Protect the property of children affected by HIV and AIDS.
It is noteworthy to mention that none of these schemes, programs etc under the act have been formed as of now. 
So, what could have been better under the Act?
  1. The governments could form their schemes and programs before passing the act so that there could have been some accountability.
  2. Some believe that the role of the ombudsman under the act is limited.
  3. Terminology in the act: obligation on the State governments to provide treatment “as far as possible”, makes it weak and open to interpretation.

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