The Union cabinet approved on Wednesday amendments to a 2014 bill that expanded protections for HIV-positive people and those living with them, prohibited discrimination in jobs and education and improved healthcare access and privacy statutes.
The proposed changes to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Controll) Bill, 2014 also have a provision for slapping a jail term of up to 2 years and a fine of up to ₹one lakh on anyone proved to be discriminating against the affected people. These people can no longer be denied health insurance.
“It’s there right to not reveal their HIV-AIDS status and if they do, no company can deny them insurance on the basis of their declaration. There will a state-appointed ombudsmen for complaint or grievance redressal or people can go to court if they feel they have been discriminated against,” said health minister JP Nadda.
Any denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment of HIV-positive people in jobs, education, healthcare or standing for public or private office is also banned.
Apart from addressing HIV-related discrimination, the bill seeks to strengthen the existing programme by bringing in legal accountability and establish formal mechanisms for inquiring into complaints and redressing grievances.
- Provide anti-retroviral therapy and infection management for persons with HIV or AIDS
- Facilitate their access to welfare schemes especially for women and children
- Formulate HIV or AIDS education communication programmes that are age appropriate, gender sensitive, and non-stigmatizing
- Lay guidelines for the care and treatment of children with HIV or AIDS
- Every person in the care and custody of the state shall have right to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and counseling services
- Cases relating to HIV positive persons shall be disposed of by the court on a priority basis and duly ensuring the confidentiality.
The aim is to prevent and control the spread of HIV and AIDS, prohibit discrimination against the affected, provide for informed consent and confidentiality with regard to their treatment and place obligations on establishments to safeguard their rights, and create mechanisms for redressing complaints.
“Currently, there is no specific punishment for discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS. It’s more like an execute order, but after the new law comes into place, it will change things for these people,” said Nadda.
The bill also aims to enhance access to health care services by ensuring informed consent and confidentiality for HIV-related testing, treatment and clinical research.
India has the third-highest population of HIV-positive people with more than two million affected by the virus but a government-controlled health programme has been successful in cutting the number of new infections by half over the past decade.
According to National AIDS Control Programme, the total number of people living with HIV is estimated at 21.17 lakhs, of which 6.54% are children below 15 years.
But despite the runaway success of the healthcare schemes and availability of anti-retroviral therapy in government hospitals, social discrimination against HIV-positive people is pervasive. Many patients are often denied jobs, thrown out of schools and refused housing. The proposed amendments aim to check this bias.
Privacy concerns of HIV-positive persons have also been addressed. No one can publish information or advocate feelings of hatred against HIV-positive persons and those living with them, and those who do will be punished.
“No person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order,” the bill said. Organisations keeping records of information of HIV-positive persons must adopt data protection measures to protect their rights.
The changes are also expected to provide essential support to the National AIDS Control Programme in arresting new infections and help achieve the target of ending the epidemic by 2030.
Every HIV infected or affected person below the age of 18 years will have the right to live in a shared household and enjoy the facilities of the household.
The guardianship of minors has been taken into consideration; a person between the age of 12 and 18 years, who has sufficient maturity in understanding and managing the affairs of his HIV or AIDS affected family, shall be competent to act as a guardian of another sibling below 18 years of age. It is especially applicable in the matters relating to admission to educational establishments, operating bank accounts, managing property, care and treatment, amongst others.