The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill 2017. While the Bill ensures that HIV positive patients are not discriminated against for either jobs or education, it only provides for access to treatment to HIV positive people “as far as possible.”
However, Union Health Minister JP Nadda made a verbal commitment before the House that all patients that test positive would get treatment free of cost. “We do not have to write this in the Bill,” said Nadda. “We stand committed [to providing free treatment to HIV positive people].”
Some MPs, including Shrikant Shinde from the Shiv Sena and Asaduddin Owaisi from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen asked in the House that the phrase “as far as possible” be removed from the legislation.
The Lok Sabha’s decision came after the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on March 22. Earlier, only patients with a CD4 count of less than 500 were provided free treatment.
Scroll.in has reported about frequent stock outs of anti-HIV drugs all over the country. Only a few months ago, a paediatric HIV drug available in syrup form was completely out of stock all over the country for a little more than a month.
Civil society groups in the India working with HIV patients have criticised the Bill as it gives no legal options to patients in case stocks run out. When the same Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, Loon Gangte, regional coordinator for South Asia at the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, an international agency that works for HIV/AIDS patients had told Scroll.in, “There is no statutory meaning to his promise. Tomorrow, when patients won’t get free drugs, the government will tell that they did ‘as far as possible’.”