Don’t Turn Back on Right to Treatment
25 November, 2016
The HIV/AIDS Bill is a unique achievement in public health legislation seeking to benefit millions of people living with and vulnerable to the disease. It seeks to address HIV/AIDS – its prevention, treatment, and the manner in which stigma, discrimination negatively impacts people living with HIV.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (PREVENTION AND CONTROL) Bill, popularly known as the HIV/AIDS Bill was first tabled in 2014.
Currently, it is first on the list of legislative business of the Rajya Sabha with the Minister of Health, Shri Nadda set to move the Bill for consideration and passing.
The draft law has gone through a – decade long – rigorous consultation process with healthcare workers, vulnerable communities and people living with HIV. It has also been whetted by the National AIDS Control Programme, Law Ministry and the Union Cabinet.
The Minister of Health is set to move the Bill for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha, but also plans to introduce several amendments.
While we welcome the work done by the government to take forward this important legislation, there is a key amendment that lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha can seek to strengthen the Bill.
Clause 14(1) of the bill that pertains to treatment includes a phrase ‘as far as possible’. This loophole renders – the right to life saving antiretroviral therapy (HIV medicines) and opportunistic infections -weak and subject to interpretation.
We believe that India as the pharmacy of the developing world has the technical capacity to produce any HIV drug and lower the prices dramatically. This is a defensive provision and highlights a lack of self belief in the ‘Make in India’ campaign that the Prime Minister has launched in the country.
In addition, if effective antiretroviral therapy is not continued life long, there is a strong likelihood of drug resistance that is not only detrimental to patients themselves but to public health at large. Lastly, latest scientific evidence shows that antiretroviral therapy contributes to prevention of HIV in the community as the virus becomes ‘undetectable’, dramatically reducing the risk of transmission.
Thus ‘as far as possible’ should be deleted from clause 14(1) altogether. MPs of the Rajya Sabha must introduce this critical amendment when it comes up on the legislative agenda of the Rajya Sabha.
Quote from Paul Lhungdim, President of Delhi Network of Positive People
“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 Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) 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! Introduce the amendment to delete the phrase ‘as far as possible’”.
A young gay man living with HIV develops an opportunistic infection Kaposi Sarcoma, a rare form of skin cancer that usually affects people living with HIV. He is receiving HIV medicines from NACO but has to pay for expensive cancer medicines and chemotherapy to extend his life. He is on the point of giving up as he simply cannot afford the expensive rounds of chemotherapy. Under the Bill he would be entitled to treatment for Kaposi Sarcoma but the loophole ‘as far as possible’ would weaken his right to seek free treatment and drugs from the government.
Rajya Sabha MPs need to plug this loophole.
Clause 14 of the HIV/AIDS Bill 2014 provides for ‘treatment’ as follows:
(1) The measures to be taken by the Central Government or State Government under section 13 shall include the measure for providing, as far as possible, diagnostic facilities relating to HIV or AIDS, Anti -Retroviral and Opportunistic Infection Management to people living with HIV or AIDS.
(2) The Central Government shall issue necessary guidelines in respect of protocols for HIV and AIDS relating to Anti-retroviral Therapy and Opportunistic Infection Management which shall be applicable to all persons and shall ensure their wide dissemination.”
For more information, please contact:
Paul Lhungdim, DNP+: +91-9810769267
Loon Gangte, International Treatment Preparedness Coalition – South Asia: +91 9871029514
Tripti Tandon, Lawyer’s Collective: +91 981013472
Leena Menghaney: +91 9811365412