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Call to table bill on HIV patients’ rights

New Delhi, Nov. 29: Health activists and lawyers have asked the Centre to table a long-pending bill they say is intended to protect HIV-infected people from discrimination in the private and public sector and make available all HIV-related treatment free of cost.

The HIV/AIDS bill also intends to provide legal immunity to individuals promoting risk-reduction strategies, such as distribution of syringes to injecting-drug users and the promotion of condoms for clients of commercial sex workers, the activists said today at a media conference.

The bill, drafted by the Union health ministry in 2006 and sent to the law ministry in 2007, is now back with the health ministry.

“We want the cabinet to approve the bill for introduction in Parliament in its session opening next month,” said Anand Grover, director of the HIV/AIDS unit of Lawyers Collective, a non-government organisation campaigning for the rights of HIV-infected people for more than a decade.

Other than protecting HIV-infected people against discrimination, the bill will uphold their right to confidentiality. Under the bill, information about the HIV status of an individual cannot be disclosed without that person’s informed consent.

While the health ministry has been providing free anti-viral drugs to HIV-infected patients, the bill will make it the government’s responsibility to provide free treatment also for the opportunistic infections that set in as the HIV load rises and immunity levels plummet in such patients.

“The government offers free first-line anti-viral therapy, but (the) second-line drugs required after (the) first-line drugs fail to work are not reaching every HIV-infected person who needs it, and the government does not provide any third-line drugs,” Pradeep Dutta, an activist campaigning for the rights of HIV-infected people, said in a media release today.

Activists expect the bill to provide HIV-infected people with all three lines of anti-viral drugs, diagnosis and treatment for opportunistic infections, and nutritional supplements ---- all of it free of cost.

Human rights activists say the bill is needed because people living with HIV infections continue to routinely face discrimination in the public and private sector.

They are denied jobs — and even treatment in hospitals —despite constitutional provisions that guarantee the right to equality and non-discrimination.

“The delay in bringing this bill to Parliament is unacceptable,” Grover said.

“We want the bill tabled in the Rajya Sabha during the upcoming winter session.”