health care

Discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients now punishable as Cabinet approves amendments to Bill

It also made antiretroviral therapy a legal right to such patients, and said a fine can be applied to those who do not comply with the order.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, making antiretroviral treatment the legal right of such patients. The World Health Organisation defines standard antiretroviral therapy as a combination of antiretroviral drugs that suppress the HIV virus and stop the disease from progressing. It recommends this therapy for all HIV-positive people.

Apart from enhancing access to health care services, the Bill prohibits discrimination against HIV-positive people or those living with them, and places obligations on establishments to safeguard the rights of persons living with HIV and create mechanisms for redressing complaints. Any person propagating hatred against HIV positive people through written or spoken word with an intention to expose them to discrimination or physical violence can be punished with imprisonment of three months to two years, and fine of up to Rs one lakh.

The Bill also prohibits making HIV test a pre-requisite for employment or accessing health care or education. It says, "No person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order".

It makes the health department, and others involved, accountable to the ombudsman appointed under the Act who can pass orders on the basis of complaints. Anyone failing to comply with the order can face a fine of up to Rs 10,000. This is significant in the light of ARV drugs repeatedly being out of stock in several parts of the country.

The Bill was first introduced during the last leg of the Congress-led United Provincial Alliance government in 2014, reported The Indian Express. However, the present government again took up the matter in July this year. Currently, there are around 21 lakh people living with HIV in India.

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