Remove the words ‘as far as possible’ from HIV Bill: patients

Members of the People Living with HIV group protesting outside the residence of Union Health Minister J.P Nadda.   | Photo Credit: Vidya Krishnan

Source: The Hindu, March 9, 2017

Members of the People Living with HIV group protested outside the residence of Union Health Minister J.P Nadda, demanding the deletion of the term ‘as far as possible’ from the HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill.

The crucial public health legislation, aimed to guarantee rights to India’s 2.4 million strong HIV community, was approved by the Cabinet in October and immediately rejected by the HIV networks, as the phrase ‘as far as possible’ left it entirely open to interpretation.

“With the country going through one of the worst phases of drug stock-outs, a weak legislation will be rejected by the HIV community,” said Kaushalya from Positive Women’s Network. “In the past few years, there have been regular stock-outs of important HIV medicines and testing kits across the country putting the lives of HIV positive people at risk.

“The government’s constant refusal to delete the phrase ‘as far as possible’ from the chapter of treatment shows their lack of commitment towards the lives of HIV positive people. This Bill without free and complete treatment is merely a piece of paper for us and we completely reject it.”

Since 2006, when the Bill was drafted, India’s People Living with HIV (PLHIV) community has been demanding right to complete treatment. While the current bill protects the community from bias, the bone of contention is Section 14 (1) of the HIV/AIDS Bill, which asks State governments to provide Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) and diagnostics services for Opportunistic Infections like tuberculosis for free, as far as possible.

Present draft of the crucial public health legislation is listed for passing in Rajya Sabha during the budget session of Parliament. “In the current form, the Bill is totally unacceptable to us. If government does not delete ‘as far as possible’ from the Bill, then we don’t want this Bill. It will not do any good to People Living with HIV, if the Bill doesn’t ensure treatment,” said Loon Gangte from International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, South Asia.

Protesters met with Mr. Nadda and spoke about the drug stock-outs plaguing India’s HIV programme – the largest in the world.

The protest comes a week after 627 children living with HIV (CLHIV) – ranging from ages 3 to 19 – wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the stock of Lopinavir syrup a child friendly HIV drug ran out. The shortage was a result of the health ministry’s decision to not clear unpaid bills worth Rs. 6 crore to Cipla Pharmaceuticals, the sole manufacturer of the drug.

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