The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2017) came into force on September 10, 2018. It was introduced by senior Congress leader Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2014. The bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on March 22, 2017 and a month later by the Lok Sabha. The bill received the President's assent on April 20, 2017.
Prior to this Act, India had a National Policy on HIV/AIDS, which aimed to control the infection and protect infected individuals against discrimination and stigma relating to HIV and AIDS. However, the policy was ineffective as it was limited to the working world and only focused on controlling AIDS. It did not focus on prevention and treatment.
CENTRAL THEME OF ACT
This Act aims to prevent and control the rise of HIV and AIDS cases in the country and also provides penalties for people discriminating against people affected by the virus. The central theme of the Act is to non-stigmatise HIV and AIDS by ensuring that their fundamental rights are not violated. It also prohibits propagating or publishing hatred to those living with HIV.
FEATURES OF ACT
- Prohibition of discrimination: Sec. 3 of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act states that no person shall discriminate against an HIV infected person or a “protected person” on the grounds of:
- Employment or occupation
- Health care services
- Education or other establishments
- Holding a public or a private office
- Reside, purchase or rent any property
- Provision of insurance, unless supported by actuarial studies.
- Consent on taking HIV test or treatment: The Act states that no HIV tests or medical treatment or research shall be performed on any person without his/her consent. The consent of such a person being tested should include pre-test and post-test counselling.
- Disclosure of HIV status: A person is not compelled to disclose his/her HIV status except by order of the court stating that the disclosure of such information is necessary in the interest of justice. The Act also mentions that no health care provider except a counsellor or a physicians shall disclose the HIV-positive status of a person to their partner.
- Duty to prevent HIV transmission: Any person who is HIV-positive and has been counselled and is aware of the nature of HIV and its transmission, must take all reasonable precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV to other persons. This may include adopting strategies for the reduction of risk or by informing in advance his HIV positive status.
- Measures by the State government and Central government: The Central and State government shall take all necessary measures for the prevention of the spread of HIV and AIDS. This includes providing diagnostic facilities and Anti-retroviral Therapy, and Opportunistic Infection Management to people affected with HIV/AIDS. The governments must also formulate HIV and AIDS-related information, education and communication programmes that are age-appropriate, gender-sensitive, non-stigmatising and non-discriminatory. Guidelines should be laid down for the care, support and treatment of children living with HIV or AIDS.
- Appointment of an Ombudsman: Every State government shall appoint one or more Ombudsman, who would address the complaints made by a person by inquiring into the violations of the Act. The Ombudsman would have the power to ask a person to furnish information, and he/she would be legally bound to furnish such information, the failure of which would be punishable under the Indian Penal Code. The Ombudsman must, after every six months, report to the State Government, the number and nature of complaints received, the action taken and orders passed with respect to such complaints and such report shall be forwarded to the Central Government.
- Penalty: Any person who contravenes the provisions of Sec. 4 is liable for imprisonments extending up to two years or a fine of Rs. 1,00,000 or both. Sec.4 of the Act prohibits a person from publishing, advertising, advocating, propagating or displaying any information which may communicate feelings of hatred against any protected person.
BENEFIT OF ACT
In 35% of countries, over 50% of people report having bias attitudes towards people who are HIV positive. While some people face discrimination in their workplace or educational establishments, some face psychological and mental damage. The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act seeks to benefit such people, whose fundamental rights are compromised on a daily basis. It aims to eradicate the discrimination of HIV infected people all around the world.
The HIV and AIDS epidemic constitutes one of the most alarming challenges to development and social progress. The epidemic worsens poverty and inequality in society and increases the burden on the most vulnerable people in society. India is currently the 3rd most infected country with HIV cases, with an estimate of 2 million people affected. This Act aims to reduce HIV cases by 75% between 2010 to 2020 and eliminate AIDS by 2030. However, until it is eradicated from India, this Act would help in protecting the interests of affected persons and safeguarding their fundamental rights.