Even as the Centre reiterated its commitment to fight the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, which acts as a barrier for accessing services, and also push the epidemic underground, around 300 people living with HIV/AIDS staged a dharna here on Monday demanding the immediate tabling of the HIV/AIDS Bill in Parliament.

The Bill has been pending with the government since July 2006.

The protesters marched to the Vigyan Bhavan where the Prime Minister addressed a two-day national convention of Zilla Parishad chairpersons and Mayors on HIV/AIDS, organised by the Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV/AIDS.

People infected with and affected by HIV face widespread discrimination in different spheres of life. HIV positive people are removed from jobs and refused medical treatment even in emergency situations. Children, whose parents are HIV positive, are often refused education, even if they are not infected with the virus. The proposed Bill aims to protect people from discrimination, both in the public and private sectors. However, it has been five years since the Bill was first finalised, and is yet to be introduced in Parliament.

“Urgent steps need to be taken to protect the rights of the HIV positive people, and passing of the much delayed HIV/AIDS Bill is an essential step in that direction,” said Hari Shankar of the Delhi Network of Positive People.

Addressing the elected representatives at the grassroots levels, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was committed to fighting this stigma on all fronts by involving all sections of society. “We can help them live with dignity and get access to education, employment as well as health care without discrimination,” he said.

He said the more critical challenge before the government was to facilitate a favourable environment for uptake of the services. “This needs confronting the social norms which reinforce negative behaviours. I emphasise that we need to promote open and healthy discussions on HIV and AIDS and issues of sexual health through various forums.”

However, Mr. Azad said the epidemic could not be fought only through medical interventions or public health measures. “It has large socio-economic implications since it affects the most vulnerable sections of society. We also need to address issues of social exclusion of marginalised communities and need to reduce gender inequalities and violence which put women at greater risk of HIV.”

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