Over 2.1 million people in the country estimated to be living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have now the right to avail necessary medical treatment and possibly live a stigma-free life with equal rights. The Union Cabinet has now passed the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, which was long introduced in 2014. 

The bill was first introduced by former Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha on February 11, 2014. Then on March 21, 2017, through a voice vote from Health and Family Welfare Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda, the bill was passed. It now paves way for necessary medical treatment and right to dignified life at par with non HIV/AIDS people.

While there are reports of dissenting voice from the HIV-AIDS community over the bill, medical experts are of the view that once the Bill comes into effect, the percentage of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a long term mental distress, or Acute Stress Disorder (short term) that commonly develops after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS virus, would reduce to 2.5 to 5.5 percent.

“The passing of HIV Bill, 2014, is not only an achievement for the HIV and AIDS community living in India, but also a message for the medical fraternity at large, who will now take care of HIV and AIDS positive patients with utmost care without delaying or denying their rights,” said Dr Amal Baishya, Senior Psychiatrist and Consultant with Guwahati Medical College, Guwahati.

"This is a common phenomenon where you see HIV/AIDS affected patients hesitate to openly deal and discuss about the problem due to huge stigma, shame and lack of awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS in our community. As a result, ASD or PTSD starts incurring people soon after being detected with HIV and AIDS,” he added.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder than Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Any HIV/AIDS patient with the former condition generally fails to respond to medical treatment.

Another doctor who wished to maintain anonymity said, “Mention of high level of mass awareness is what is missing from the bill. Now, focus should be on adding HIV/AIDS as well as psychiatry departments, chambers or specialised doctors in every health center and hospital at district level is the need of the hour.”

“Instead of mentioning ‘as far as possible’ measures by the central and state governments, ‘free and compulsory treatment’ is what needed in the lists under the ambit of HIV bill, 2014,” the doctor added.

Essentials in the HIV Bill, 2014

1. Under the HIV Bill, 2014, anybody with HIV and AIDS in India will not be denied of medical treatment. The Central or State Governments will itself ensure that the treatments and medical assistance are provided.  

2. Health centers, hospitals refusing or denying treatment to HIV and AIDS patients have to furnish clear justification behind their denial. Severe action will be taken against them.

3. As per the Section 13, the Central or State Governments shall include measures for providing as far as possible, anti-retroviral therapy and opportunistic management to people living with HIV or AIDS.

4. The bill criminalises discrimination against HIV/AIDS afflicted people and those associated and living with them.

5. Safeguarding and granting rights like acceptance and fair treatment to them in educational institutions, workplaces, healthcare services, sale or renting out of property, standing for public or private office, provision of insurance etc.

6. The bill prohibits various institutions from forcing people to undergo no HIV test, medical treatment or research as pre-requisite for employment or education.  

7. The confidentiality and consent of HIV/AIDS community will be safeguarded while dealing with HIV and AIDS patients. This mean they should not be compelled to disclose HIV status except against their consent unless it is called by a court order.

8. The government has allocated Rs.2,000 crore fund as part of National AIDS Control Programme for 2017-18. This allocation will enhance access to healthcare services.