Health ministry rolls out HIV AIDS Act. Here is all you need to know

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced that the ‘HIV AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act 2017’ comes into force September 10 onwards this year.

The Act was formed with a motive to check the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and aims at protecting the rights of people who are either tested positive for HIV or are suffering from AIDS.

The Act was formulated in line with India being a signatory to the United Nations Declaration which stated that nations will work in a comprehensive manner to address the problems of HIV and AIDS in all aspects.

Does the Act help in alleviating discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS?

As per the Act, a person with HIV/AIDS can neither be denied occupation nor his/her employment be terminated. Similarly, denial, discontinuation or unfair treatment in healthcare services and educational establishments will be prohibited, according to the Act.

In addition, an HIV-positive person or a person suffering from AIDS cannot be kept in isolation or be denied access to public places. He/she cannot be denied the right to reside, rent or purchase any property.

What about indirect discrimination?

According to the Act, no person shall, by words, either spoken or written, propagate or communicate by signs or by visible representation the feelings of hatred against any person with HIV/AIDS.

On similar grounds, the publishing and broadcast of any information that propagates hatred or exposes people with HIV/AIDS to hatred, discrimination or physical violence will be strictly prohibited under the Act.

Informed consent for undertaking HIV test or treatment

A person cannot be made to take an HIV test and follow-up treatment without his/her informed consent. In addition, such tests can be carried out only by pathological labs that meet the guidelines set by the government.

What about confidentiality?

A person cannot be compelled to disclose his/her HIV positive status under the Act. In fact, a healthcare provider will not be allowed to disclose the HIV positive status to his/her partner, except when the healthcare practitioner feels that the partner is at significant risk of transmission.

Moreover, every establishment keeping the records of HIV-related information of people with HIV/AIDS shall adopt data protection measures in accordance with the guidelines to ensure that such information is protected from disclosure.

How will the government be involved?

The role of the Centre and the state governments will be providing better diagnostic facilities related to HIV or AIDS, anti-retroviral therapy and opportunistic infection management to people living with HIV or AIDS.

A state government will also appoint an ombudsman to inquire into complaints related to the violation of the Act and provision of healthcare services.

What is the legal recourse?

Anyone who is found violating the norms mentioned in the Act can be punished with imprisonment for a term ranging from three months to two years; and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.

Similarly, if any healthcare practitioner is found to disclose information regarding the HIV-positive status of an individual, he/she can be charged with a fine of Rs 1 lakh.

The offences under this Act will be cognizable and bailable.

The grievances will be heard in the court of the Judicial Magistrate First Class.

Who will benefit from the implementation of this Act?

The total number of people living with HIV in India is estimated at 21.17 lakh. In 2015, 86,000 new HIV infections were reported. In the same year, an estimated 68,000 people lost their lives to AIDS-related causes across the country.