People living with HIV (PLHIV) in India now have equal rights after the government passed a historic bill ensuring their protection.
The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill was passed in the federal parliament on Tuesday. The bill makes it illegal to discriminate against PLHIV.
India is the first country in south Asia to introduce anti-discrimination legislation. It will protect PLHIV’s access to health, housing education and prevent restaurants or shops refusing them entry.
India has the third highest number of PLHIV at 2.1 million, with more than 68,000 people died of an AIDS related illness in 2015.
The legislation also protects people from undergoing a HIV test, medical treatment or research without their consent.
A person would not be force to disclose their status unless a court order requires it.
India’s Health Minister J. P. Nadda told the Press Trust of India the bill was ‘historic’ and promised action ‘against those who create hatred against HIV patients.’
A good move, but it’s flawed
The legislation was welcomed by some HIV organizations but not everybody was happy with one part of the bill.
The new law requires all state governments establish an ombudsman to investigate violations of the new law. Another clause requires the government must provide free treatment ‘as far as possible’.
‘This ‘As far as possible’ is a loophole which will turn the clock back to the mid-1990s. Without the guarantee of treatment, HIV will once again become a death sentence,’ Anand Grover, senior advocate with the Lawyers Collective told The Guardian.
‘As for the ombudsman, it is neither a full-time post nor is the person required to have any judicial training.’
Paul Lhungdim, project coordinator for the Delhi Network of Positive People asked how poorer states would pay for the ombudsman.
‘It might just leave the post vacant. We would have preferred this responsibility for the ombudsman to have stayed with New Delhi,’ he said.
‘This is like opening the door and wondering why the horse bolted. How do we hold anyone accountable with a clause like this?’
He also the treatment clause would badly affect the effectiveness of the new legislation.
‘Yes, discrimination is a bad thing but it is likely to continue in some form or another given what society is like. For us, treatment is the absolute priority, so that we can be healthy and live. This clause dilutes the impact of the law,’ Lhungdim said.