New Delhi: At least 250 protesters gathered outside the health ministry (CHK) on Tuesday to protest against the sluggish progress of a draft legislation to protect the rights of those with HIV.
The proposed law was drafted in 2006, but is still to be placed before Parliament (CHK).
From five-year-old Jason, who attended the protest in the arms of his mother, to elderly AIDS patients being helped along by younger relatives, the protesters from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, blocked the entrance to the health ministry in a seated protest, demanding the proposal be introduced in Parliament in the winter session that began Tuesday.
An HIV affected family. File photo
“It’s high time we get the Bill passed. It protects a huge range of rights for HIV positive people,” said Raman Chawla of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit, which is coordinating the protests. “It says that HIV positive people cannot be discriminated against anywhere, in the public or private sector. It provides free treatment for HIV positive people and protects their right to confidentiality. It also says they cannot be tested without their consent.”
The health ministry has effectively taken no action to move the draft since March 2010, when it was cleared by the law ministry, Chawla said.
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HIV positive patients from across the country came together with activists in front of the health ministry, demanding that the HIV Bill is passed in the Parliament’s winter session.
“We had a big protest this July also,” he said. “At that time the health minister refused to give any assurance when the bill will be tabled. He says he is not okay with the provision that free treatment be provided to all HIV positive people. That is a non-negotiable provision, one that cannot be removed, and presently the health ministry is just sitting on it and doing nothing.”
Senior bureaucrats at the health ministry were not available for comment.
In May 2011, a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health found that “earlier initiation of antiretrovirals led to a 96% reduction in HIV transmission to the HIV-uninfected partner,” emphasising the advantages of free treatment in stemming the spread of the disease.
India has an HIV/AIDS population of about 1.5 million, according to a recent report by the British Medical Journal. A report released on Monday by UNAIDS stated that, since 1991, new HIV infections have fallen by 56% in India. However, the proportion of the eligible population receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2010 is relatively low, between 20-30%, according to the same report.
Researchers, looking to develop an HIV vaccine, have begun a hunt for a rare type of AIDS patient in India that has natural antibodies to block the virus, Mint reported on Tuesday.
Surekha N. Shetty, also of the lawyers collective, said that currently, the rights of HIV positive people are being ignored. “People face a lot of discrimination in hospitals, they are not treated properly and even in schools children who are infected are thrown out if they have HIV,” Shetty said. “Then private sector discrimination will not be addressed without the law. It brings the private sector within the ambit.”
Chawla said that the demands of the protestors were limited to one. “Get the bill passed as soon as possible or the protests will continue,” he said. “We are protesting over the last five years and we will continue to do it. We will not stop.”