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Indian Parliament clears landmark HIV legislation

Apr 12, 2017

The new law bans discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV in India.

New Delhi: UNAIDS, the UN Programme on HIV/AIDS has welcomed a new law passed by the Indian Parliament providing strong legal protection against HIV-related discrimination.

With 2.1 million people living with HIV in 2015, India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world and the largest in the Asia and the Pacific region.

The new legislation provides a broad legislative framework for the response to HIV in India and is the first national law on HIV in South Asia. The law prohibits discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV in a range of settings, including employment, education, housing and health care, as well as with regard to the holding of public or private office, access to insurance and freedom of movement.

The new law also bans unfair treatment of people living with and affected by HIV with regard to accessing public facilities, such as shops, restaurants, hotels, public entertainment venues, public facilities and burial grounds.

Steve Kraus, Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific said that this legislation begins to remove barriers and empowers people to challenge violations of their human rights. “This is an important step forward for people living with and affected by HIV in India and around the world,” he said.

Notably, the new law is armed with provisions to increase access-to-justice for people affected by HIV, including obligations for health-care institutions to establish complaints mechanisms and a health ombudsman supported by special procedures to be followed in courts.

The law also protects the rights of people affected by HIV to informed consent (including for any sterilization procedures), to confidentiality and to a safe working environment, and promotes the delivery of critical harm reduction interventions, including condoms, comprehensive injection safety requirements and opioid substitution therapy.

The process of drafting the legislation began in 2002 and involved consultations with and inputs by various stakeholders, including people living with HIV and affected communities, human rights organizations, government departments and members of parliament, before finally being presented to parliament in 2014.

The law will come into force when it is published in the Official Gazette.

Civil society representatives hailed the legislation, but also voiced concerns over a provision that appeared to limit the government’s obligation to provide HIV treatment.

The government has since announced a ‘treat all’ policy in Parliament, guaranteeing free antiretroviral therapy for everyone.

“We declare that anybody tested positive will be treated,” said JP Nadda, Indian Minister for Health and Family Welfare. “This is the level of commitment with which we are working and with which we will be going forward.”

HIV treatment not only protects the health of people living with HIV, but also prevents onward transmission of the virus.

Oscar Fernandes, Member of Parliament and President of the Forum of Parliamentarians on AIDS in India, believes that support for the HIV bill has been bipartisan. “It has been a long struggle for everyone working towards having an HIV-specific legislation as it would guarantee the right to dignity and non-discrimination for people affected by HIV,” he said.

In June 2016, Member States of the United Nations committed in the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to “promoting laws and policies that ensure the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for children, adolescents and young people, particularly those living with, at risk of and affected by HIV, so as to eliminate the stigma and discrimination that they face.

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