Here's what you need to know about proposed changes to the HIV/AIDS Bill
The cabinet Wednesday approved amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, providing, for the first time, legal remedy to the patients against any sort of discrimination.
The bill seeks to strengthen legal accountability and put in place a mechanism to inquire into and redress complaints of discrimination.
Here are some of the salient features of the proposed legislation:
No person with HIV/AIDS shall be unfairly treated in any matter related to employment, education, health, insurance, residence, renting of property or standing for public or private office.
Making HIV testing a prerequisite for gaining employment or accessing healthcare and education is prohibited.
The National Aids Control Organisation has been in talks with the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority about providing life and health insurance coverage to all HIV-affected people. The IRDA is learnt to be against providing insurance cover to such people at the standard rates of premium. The bill proposes to ensure the HIV/AIDS who buy insurance aren't treated differently.
Publishing information or advocating feelings of hatred against people with HIV/AIDS or those living with them is prohibited.
No person must be "compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent or required by a court order".
All establishments mandated to keep records of people with HIV/AIDS shall adopt data protection measures
Central and state governments shall provide for the antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS patients. The standard treatment consists of a combination of three drugs that suppresses the replication of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, reducing the likelihood of the virus becoming drug resistant. The therapy is crucial for the survival of the patient.
Activists have often complained to courts and governments about the lack of ART drugs and diagnostic kits. Vikas Ahuja, former president of the Delhi Network of Positive People, a community which works towards improving the treatment and facilities for people with HIV/AIDS, says not much has been done about this.
Any person in the care and custody of the state shall have the right to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and counselling. The bill also suggests that cases relating to people with HIV shall be "disposed of" by the court on a priority basis while ensuring their confidentiality.
What if the provisions of the proposed legislation are violated? The bill calls for the appointment of an ombudsman by every state government - health is a state subject - to inquire into complaints of any violations and recommend penal action.
The ombudsman need not be a "separate entity", a government functionary could be deputed to fulfil the role.
According to the National AIDS Control Organisation, 2.08 million people were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in India in 2013. India, in fact, is home to the third largest HIV/AIDS population in the world, as per the UN. On an average, 4 out of 10 people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region are in India
Given this, the proposed legislation can only be described as a landmark initiative.