The HIV community in India on Friday rejected the long awaited HIV/AIDS Bill in its current form and demanded removal of the phrase “as far as possible” from the proposed legislation.
The crucial public health legislation is first on the list of legislative business of the Rajya Sabha with Health Minister J.P. Nadda set to move the Bill for consideration and passing.
The current version of the HIV Bill has shocked the HIV community as it dilutes rights to access treatment. The Bill was approved by the Cabinet in October and was expected to guarantee the rights of India’s 2.4 million HIV positive community.
Instead, the version that has been put in public domain reveals that the Bill has been amended to state that governments are required to focus on prevention — and not on treatment — that too, as far as possible.
At a press conference here, the activists stated that Clause 14(1) of the Bill pertaining to prevention of spread of the virus included a phrase ‘as far as possible.’ The loophole renders the Bill — especially right to access life saving anti-retroviral therapy — weak and subject to interpretation. “It is unacceptable that the government is seeking to limit our right to treatment. I have seen countless people from my community die due to unavailability of viral load testing, second and third line HIV drugs. If we have a right under the law then we can hold the government accountable for providing comprehensive treatment and for addressing the never ending bureaucratic delays in drug procurement. I am appealing to members of Rajya Sabha today — please don’t turn back on our right to treatment. I implore them to introduce the amendment to delete the phrase ‘as far as possible,” said Paul Lhungdim, President of Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+).
Injection safety programme
An earlier version of the Bill clarified the need to strengthen injection safety programme as IDUs (Injecting Drug Users) can substantially reduce their risk of getting and transmitting HIV, viral hepatitis and other blood borne infections by using a sterile needle for every injection. However, Clause 22 of the current Bill simply states the words ‘injection safety requirements’ without specifying the rules.
“Basically, if a volunteer gives sterile needles and takes back used needles from a patient, he could be picked up for aiding and abetting unlawful use of drugs. Provision of sterile needles is seen as a crime and this Bill was expected to clarify the needles safety guidelines. What we have now instead clarifies is completely open to interpretation,” said Tripti Tandon, who works with Lawyers Collective, a legal aid organisation that was a part of the drafting committee for this Bill.