Concerned with continuing discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, the government is planning to introduce legislation that will penalise anyone found guilty of discrimination, including doctors, corporate establishments and schools and colleges
The Indian government plans to put in place legislation that will penalise discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), in an attempt to end discrimination against them. Corporates, doctors and schools that shun or ostracise HIV–positive people are prime targets of the proposed law.
A Bill on the issue has been approved by the health ministry and the law ministry is currently studying the draft.
India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said: “It is a worrisome factor when doctors turn away HIV patients, or corporates turn away people because they are HIV–positive. Another worrying factor is schools refusing admission to HIV–positive children.”
“The government is bringing in a law, and in the monsoon session we will move the Bill for an Act to deter discrimination against HIV patients in workplaces, educational institutions and treatment centres,” he said. However, Ramadoss, who was speaking at the HIV Congress 2008, did not elaborate further on the law.
The proposed law also moots the concept of a health ombudsman in every district to curb the growing discrimination against PLWHA. It underlines the fact that the health ombudsperson will “act as a pressure valve for the legal system by providing quick and alternative remedies rather than encouraging litigation”.
“Discrimination against AIDS patients is growing across India and an HIV/AIDS Bill is under discussion at the law ministry. The Bill has the provision for the innovative concept of a health ombudsman,” said Anand Grover, director of the Mumbai–based Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit.
According to the Bill, an ombudsperson may be any person who has working experience or extensive knowledge of public health or healthcare delivery systems. The person must be independent and sensitive to issues addressed in the Bill. “He or she may be from the IAS, a healthcare provider or a person working in an NGO,” the Bill states. “They (the ombudspersons) will also help healthcare providers get gloves, masks and other universal precautions to ensure that there is no impediment in treatment. Further, they will act as a watchdog in cases of quackery… When it comes to violations, the health ombudsperson may pass orders in cases of emergency including directing admissions, operations, or treatment and the provision of universal precautions,” the Bill adds.
The ombudsperson can also “pass orders directing the person who has committed the violation to undergo a fixed period of counselling related to the violation committed and a fixed period of social service”.
“As per the Bill, an ombudsman will be appointed in every district of the country and will have the power to listen to cases related to discrimination and ask for an audit,” Grover, also a leading Supreme Court lawyer, said.
Grover and his organisation drafted the Bill with assistance from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and other experts from across the country.
“This will help people get justice without going to court and it will be a podium for speedy disposal of cases of such nature,” Grover added. People will also be free to approach a court directly without approaching the ombudsperson, who will start investigations either after receiving a written complaint from the aggrieved person or following directions from a court.
“NACO has informed us that the ministry has debated the Bill to some extent and has found some doubts about certain provisions. NACO is answering the queries. We are ready to sit with law ministry officials and sort out any doubts about the Bill,” Grover said.
Ramadoss recently criticised doctors for their “irrational” use of antiretroviral treatment for short periods, increasing patients’ immunity to the drugs and raising the cost of treatment. “Presently it costs the government Rs 5,000 a year to provide HIV patients with treatment with first–line drugs, but second–line drugs cost close to Rs 1 lakh per month,” he said.
The government has set up 147 treatment centres and is expected to treat 3 lakh HIV/AIDS patients free of cost within the next three years, Ramadoss added.
The health minister said the National AIDS Control Programme, which currently focused on data from the states, would refine the data in order to assess the number of HIV patients per district and provide them better care.
India is home to around 2.7 million HIV/AIDS patients, including nearly 80,000 children below the age of 14, according to latest estimates.
Source: www.sifynews.com, March 23, 2008
IANS, February 20, 2008