Almost six years after the Health Ministry prepared the HIV/AIDS Bill to protect the rights of patients, hundreds of victims and organisations fighting for the cause staged a rally in Mumbai on Friday. They demanded that the long-overdue Bill be tabled at the monsoon session of Parliament, lest it be forgotten amid the Rajya Sabha elections.
Stating that HIV/AIDS is not just a health issue but has emerged to be one of the most difficult social problems with victims facing stigma and ostracism, the Mumbai AIDS Forum protested the delay in bringing the Bill up for discussion.
In August 2007, the HIV/AIDS Bill, prepared by the Health Ministry, was sent to the Law Ministry. In March 2010, the Law Ministry cleared the Bill and sent it back to the Health Ministry. “The Bill is being passed from one ministry to another and the delay is costing the patients in need of immediate relief,” said Ashok Row Kavi of the Hamsafar Trust. “The Bill should be tabled at the monsoon session of Parliament so that it is not forgotten when the new government is formed next year,” he said.The Bill, as it is touted to be, addresses crucial concerns of discrimination against affected persons, availability of medicines and provision of effective and timely treatment. Currently, first-line and second-line antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) is provided to people infected with HIV. However, treatment for opportunistic infections and important diagnostic procedures — viral load tests, for instance — are not available at government centres. The Bill also mandates providing of nutritional supplements to every HIV person free-of-cost. It also seeks to protect the property rights of HIV-affected children, whose property is often appropriated by relatives after the death of the parents.
The anti-discrimination Bill seeks to protect people from being discriminated against in different spheres of life such as employment, healthcare and education. “When I found out I was HIV positive, I was devastated. It was in 2005 and I felt that I didn’t need to live. The ground beneath my feet slipped. My own brother and father didn’t want me anymore. I felt ostracized until I went for counselling. My treatment started and I felt better,” said Krishna Thakur (40) who now works for the cause with NGO Chiraag.
Anand Grover, Director of the Lawyers’ Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, said that the battle for protecting the rights of HIV-infected patients had begun way back in 1988. He explained the case of Dominic D’Souza from Goa, who was the first person in India to be diagnosed with AIDS. “After a blood donation, it was found that he had AIDS. His organisation fired him and he was held at a tuberculosis sanctorium. Nobody touched him and food was thrown at him. He then filed a habeas corpus in the court and I was called from Mumbai to represent him. The verdict was bad and he died in 1992. That’s when I dedicated to dedicate my life to the cause,” said Grover.
In 2011, 1.16 lakh new HIV infections among adults and around 14,500 new infections among children had occurred.
(Some of the victims’ names have been changed to protect their identity)