Will the new HIV/AIDS bill bring about a change for the better?

The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, which ensures equal rights to HIV and AIDS patients, seeking treatment, education, and jobs in society, was passed in Rajya Sabha. Though the bill ensures to end discrimination with HIV / AIDS people, many stakeholders of the society have pointed out the loopholes in the bill, which needs to be addressed on a serious ground

Will the new HIV / AIDS bill bring about a change for the better?
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“Is this the new law that will change our life,” questioned Naresh Varma (name changed) (34), a HIV positive patient, after the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday (March 16). The bill ensures equal rights to HIV and AIDS patients, seeking treatment, education, and jobs in society.

“We always live under the fear of losing employment and sometimes, even relations. It’s very tragic in this high-tech era that normal people can’t even understand the difference between being HIV positive and AIDS. So, how we will get equal and fair treatment? We need more education and awareness on this,” said Varma, a Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar resident.

Varma, who came to know that he is HIV positive in 2007, says that his story is the same as many others who often have had to face discrimination.

“I have been humiliated at government hospitals where I go for my treatment. They insult us and talk rudely. Are we not humans?  Is it my fault if I am HIV positive,” questioned Varma.

A computer trainer at Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, which works for prevention of HIV / AIDS through education, Varma has a son and wife to look after.

India is estimated to have 2.39 million people living with HIV / AIDS (PLHIV), the third highest number after South Africa and Nigeria.

“There are 41,000 patients who are registered with us. Around 34,000 are on anti-retroviral treatment and others are on regular follow-up. Comparing the number of patients from 2010, there is almost 54% decline in cases. In pregnant women, there is a reduction of 64%. We have also seen reduction in deaths as more numbers of centres have been set-up and treatment is available,” said Dr Shrikala Acharya, Additional Project Director at Mumbai District Aids Control Society.

He added that the new bill will be helpful for those who face discrimination as they can seek legal action.

According to Section 37 of the bill, ‘whoever contravenes the provisions of section 4 shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both’.

Though the bill ensures to end discrimination with HIV / AIDS people, many stakeholders of the society have pointed out the loopholes in the bill, which needs to be addressed on a serious ground.

Eldred Tellis, Executive Director of Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, said, “We are mainly fighting to remove the clause ‘as far as possible’ regarding the treatment. We are unhappy with it.”

Section 14 of the bill says, ‘the measures to be taken by the Central Government or the State Government under section 13 shall include the measures for providing, as far as possible, Anti-retroviral Therapy and Opportunistic Infection Management to people living with HIV or AIDS’.

Tellis further says in this particular bill, where they are defining an HIV person as ‘protected person’, it’s revolving around HIV positive person and his or her family.

“We want it to be related to other members of the population like sex workers, men having sex with men among others. They also should be considered as affected people,” Tellis added.

The bill specifically talks about discrimination, but there is no mention of free treatment. However, Union Health Minister JP Nadda promised verbally in the House to implement a test and treat policy, where all individuals who have tested positive for HIV infection will receive antiretroviral drugs in India

“Whenever any such law comes into effect, it is important to know how much the law facilitates to marginalised people, such as sex workers. They are still the ignored part of the society,” said Priti Patekar, Co-founder of Prerana organisation.

Welcoming the bill, Dr Om Shrivastav, Consultant (Infectious Disease and Immunology), pointed at the need for resistance test to give proper treatment to HIV positive patients.

“It is a good move, but there is a need for resistance test to find out if a particular patient is getting benefit of certain drugs. It is important to know which types of drugs are going to be made available,” added Shrivastav.

Though the bill was initially introduced in the Parliament by the UPA government, the amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 were revived by the BJP government in July last year. As the bill has been passed in Rajya Sabha, it will be tabled in Lok Sabha for discussion.