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HIV+ people need access, care and confidentiality

The HIV/AIDS Bill, which ensures a level-playing field for HIV+ people, must be placed before Parliament in the winter session writes Jayakumar Christian.

ht view Updated: Dec 03, 2013 21:00 IST
Jayakumar Christian

In 2010, the Karnataka government approved the introduction of an innovative learning material on HIV-AIDS awareness in the curriculum of about 5,500 state-run schools.

The animation-based material came from Teach AIDS, a non-profit social venture founded at Stanford University.

In 2011, seven primary school children were thrown out of school by the teachers at Belgaum, Karnataka, citing their suspect medical condition and opposition from the parents of other students as reasons. Clearly, something is amiss. Pertinent questions arise as to who needs the material more - the children or the adults.

The noble intent and the ground reality are poles apart, with Karnataka being just one case among the many similar Indian states. With World AIDS day on December 1, the various stakeholders are eagerly looking forward to how the HIV/AIDS Bill would fare, if and when tabled in the winter session of Parliament.

Perhaps it is too much to ask or hope for - considering the Bill, which aims at introducing legal protection for the infected, has been stuck in red tape since 2006.

People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA), numbering about 23.9 lakhs in 2009 according to the National AIDS Control Organisation, have been at the receiving end of society's stick of discrimination ever since the first HIV case was reported in 1986.

Instances of innocent infected children being ridiculed, quarantined, and expelled from schools for carrying the virus have been reported even from Kottayam, the first Indian district to achieve a 100% literacy rate.

Despite nodding its head to the UN Resolution of 2001 that urged member-nations to take measures to stop stigma and related discrimination against PLHA, India still lags behind, with shocking instances of discrimination surfacing far too often.

The shuttling of the Bill between the ministries of health and law for seven years has amounted to human rights violations and discrimination adding on to the burdens of caste, class and gender biases.

That the Bill needs to come into full effect at the earliest is the responsibility of the legislators and policy makers. The anti-discriminatory thrust of the Bill brings discrimination in the private sector also under its purview - a first in the country.

Considering the inhuman bias that PLHA suffer both in the public and private sectors, it is only natural that a legislative measure which covers both should be introduced.

The proposed Bill covers anti-discrimination, right to consent, right to confidentiality, access to treatment, and special provisions for women and children including property, counselling and care.

Above all, it ensures a platform for growth for PLHA in a level-playing field. Only then would NACO's assurance of ‘the support of the legal system' for the affected persons begin to sound true.

Jayakumar Christian is national director, World Vision India

The views expressed by the author are personal