The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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HIV apartheid in Mumbai airport

Mumbai, Nov. 3: Six HIV-positive persons, including one from Calcutta, have been quarantined in a hospital here for not possessing a yellow fever-free certificate on their return from an AIDS conference in Uganda.

The quarantine flies in the face of a World Health Organisation guideline that exempts HIV-positive persons from the yellow fever vaccination as it might prove life-threatening.

All international airports follow this norm, strengthened by the warning of US-based Centre for Disease Control that vaccination on the HIV-positive may expose them to encephalitis and other infections that could be fatal.

But not the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, which sent the six to the yellow fever hospital on the outskirts of suburban Andheri on Saturday. The six have been ordered to remain in quarantine till November 6.

“There were 15 persons in our group, all Indians who were returning after attending the 11th International Conference for People Living with HIV/AIDS, held at the Ugandan capital of Kampala,’’ the HIV-positive person from Calcutta told The Telegraph from the hospital over a cellphone.

“None of us had the vaccination certificate as we are not supposed to, but the others were left off and we were held. We were asked $100 each by the authorities who were entitled to check us and then let us go. It was all so horrific. We are planning to file a petition against those who subjected us to this inhuman treatment,’’ he added.

Prasad Gaikwad, the deputy health officer at the airport, said a certificate is “necessary’’ for those coming from African countries. He said the officials were doing their duty and denied any callousness on their part.

Fifty passengers flying Kenyan Airlines had disembarked at the Mumbai international airport at 2 am on Saturday. While 35 of them were from Sri Lanka and Nepal, the rest were Indians. Of the six who have been detained, two are from Mumbai and one each from Calcutta, Manipur, Pune and Kerala.

Those quarantined said one of them is ill but there is nothing they can do because nobody is being let out from the locked hospital room.

As the hospital provides no food for the patients, it had to be arranged by NGOs working for AIDS patients.

Another person locked up in the hospital said: “All this happened because we could not pay the bribe of $100 each. Those who paid up went free.’’

The person added that the Maharashtra government should now answer what it has done with the millions of dollars it has been receiving from the World Bank and Global Fund for AIDS awareness and sensitisation.

“Where is the awareness'’’ he asked. “Airport authorities laughed at us and sniggered when we told them what they were doing to us was unfair. Is this how they behave with AIDS patients even after 25 years of the epidemic' They want us to be vaccinated when they know it could mean death for us. Even otherwise, India has not reported a single case of yellow fever in the last 10 years. In India, we are very soft targets.’’

The head of the Maharashtra State Aids Control, Sanjay Sawant, said the vaccination certificate was not necessary, but added that what was being done to the six persons was for their “own benefit”. “We are keeping them under observation of doctors for their own safety. They will be allowed to go home after November 6.’’

But NGOs and AIDS activists have asked state health minister Digvijay Khanvilkar to release those quarantined immediately. “This is utter insensitivity and a violation of human rights,’’ Hanif, who works with Udan Plus, an NGO, said.

“These people were herded off like cattle and kept without food and water. They weren’t even told at the airport where they were going. We are not going to keep quiet.’’

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