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“Historic” HIV/AIDS law passed in Parliament

An end to HIV/AIDS discrimination?

HIV symptoms Copyright: <a href=''>designua / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Signs and symptoms of HIV.

A ‘historic’ bill has been passed in the Indian Parliament, making it illegal to discriminate against those with HIV/AIDS.

The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill was first tabled in 2014 and received the Indian cabinet’s seal of approval last year, before being introduced during the 2016 winter session. As Health Issues India wrote at the time

“this bill aims to end discrimination against the estimated 2.1 million citizens living with the condition by attaching legal accountability to those seen to be discriminating against them. Alongside this the bill aims to address treatment and prevention of the disease.”

The bill was unanimously passed on Tuesday, April 11 by the Lok Sabha, having previously passed through the Rajya Sabha on March 21. The bill states that discrimination against those with a HIV positive status is illegal in areas such as healthcare, education and employment.

The discrimination section of the bill has garnered praise in terms of human rights. A number of rights enshrined within the bill are vital to maintaining the human dignity of those suffering from the condition. While it cannot be ensured that everyday prejudice will be eliminated entirely, it does address key matters that will make life far more comfortable for HIV/AIDS patients.

Matters such as rights to housing and privacy are discussed, noting a HIV positive person may not be denied housing based on their condition. Confidentiality and patient consent are also stated as unquestionable rights of the patient. HIV status is subject to confidentiality, and a person cannot be forced to state their disease status without a court order.

HIV treatment given “as far as possible”

The bill has no doubt been a positive addition to the rights of those with the disease, though there are areas that have caused concern. These concerns are the same as those that loomed over the bill before its passing. As mentioned in the previous Health Issues India article:

“Since the bill was introduced in 2014, it has been amended to state that the focus will be on prevention rather than treatment – and that treatment will only be given “as far as possible”

The usage of the term “as far as possible” was never removed during the bill’s passing through the Lok Sabha. This has caused concern from some legal experts as it has the potential to be at odds with the statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government “stands committed for free treatment of HIV patients”.

The deletion of this clause from section 14 (1) of the bill has been a demand by patients, activists and experts since the introduction of the bill in 2014. These requests have now been ignored. Experts have stated that a verbal commitment by the government to provide free treatment does not hold the same legal binding as if it were written within the bill. This leaves the possibility that free treatment is not a guaranteed right.

Though the “as far as possible” comment has marred the bill in the eyes of many patient groups who have campaigned since 2014 to have the right to free treatment enshrined, the bill is still a promising step forward. As a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill that encompasses protection from discrimination from both the government as well as private institutions, the bill may drastically improve the quality of life for HIV/AIDS patients.

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