Why we need an HIV/AIDS Bill

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

HIV/AIDS has long gone past being a medical problem and is now an issue that cuts across social, economic, psychological, medical, and human rights parameters. It is apparent that today, HIV is found primarily among groups who are often discriminated against and are at a social and legal disadvantage. It is thus, only by protecting the rights of those living with and affected by HIV as well as those most vulnerable to it, that public health strategies to contain the disease can be effective and an environment free of stigma and discrimination can be fostered.

Further, laws which criminalise communities most vulnerable to this epidemic, such as sex workers and injecting drug users only exacerbate their situation. It was thus felt that India needs an anti-discrimination law to deal with stigma and discrimination faced by people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, to tackle this epidemic successfully. It was also realized that the private sector should be brought within the ambit of an anti-discrimination law.

The HIV/AIDS Bill was drafted way back in 2006, with a view to protect the rights of the people living with and affected by HIV and to control the spread of the epidemic. It was only in October 2013, however, that the Law Ministry cleared the Bill and sent it back to the Health Ministry.

The bill is seen as a landmark motif for some of its intrepid provisions in a conservtive country like India.  Some of the important provisions of the Bill include: The Anti Discrimination Law, The Right to Informed Consent, The Right to Confidentiality, Access to Treatment, introduction of Health Ombudsman in every district and initiation of Risk Reduction Strategies such as distribution of condoms and safe sex information; instituting Information, Education and Communication programmes.

The Bill also enables Special Provisions for Women and Children keeping in mind the specific vulnerabilities that women and children face with respect to HIV including registration of marriages which provides for HIV related counselling and distribution of IEC at the time of marriage. Another provision on sexual assault protocols ensure that victims of sexual assault are provided immediate counselling and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (treatment which reduces the chance of contracting HIV if taken within 72 hours of the exposure) irrespective of whether they have filed an FIR.

To address the vulnerability of children, provisions which protect the property of children and provision providing for the older sibling, who is a minor, to become a legal guardian in case of orphans have been included in the Bill.

To ensure proper implementation of the Bill, and to encourage access to the legal system, the Bill provides for certain special procedures in court such as suppression of identity of an applicant under this law.

Another important provision is that of speedy trial, which requires cases in which HIV-positive people are parties, to be disposed off within a certain time period. Other provisions include the orders which the courts may pass like payment of damage, suspension or revocation of licenses, reinstatement in employment.

The networks of people living with HIV/AIDS and civil society organisations continue their battle to table the Bill in the Rajya Sabha in the upcoming winter session of Parliament before the 2014 General Elections. What makes the Bill truly unique is that it provides, at various stages, for the involvement of PLHIV in decision making and the formulation and implementation of programmes and policies which affect them. This is to ensure that the policies and programmes reflect the needs of the people who will be affected by them.

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