Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)
A faulty prescription
The words ‘as far as possible’ could become a legal loophole in a progressive HIV/AIDS prevention bill
In spite of the fact that Union health minister JP Nadda has promised in the Lok Sabha that the government is committed to providing free treatment and medicines to HIV+ persons, the wording of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2017, provides cause for concern. The clause allows HIV positive citizens to have access to treatments and medicines “as far as possible”. This could prove to be a loophole in an otherwise progressive and much-needed bill. To say that treatment and benefits will be provided “as far as possible” is to provide an excuse right at the outset, for the possibility of the failure of the system.
The bill seeks to address HIV-related discrimination, ensure that HIV+ patients are not discriminated against for either jobs or education, to strengthen the existing programme by bringing in legal accountability, and to establish formal mechanisms for complaints and to redress grievances. This is a welcome step up from the earlier provision that only patients with a CD4 count of less than 500 were eligible for free treatment. The only fly in the ointment here is the escape route that the government may have allowed itself, by promising treatment only up to a point.
In a country where it is routine for primary health centres to run out of essential medicines and for people to be turned away from hospitals for flimsy reasons; such a clause will hamper the effective implementation of an important healthcare effort that is aimed at some of the most vulnerable members of society. The health minister’s assurances might not mean anything when HIV+ citizens are denied their rights because of either government apathy or the lack of medicine. It will leave no legal recourse for those who suffer, because if a patient does not receive the treatment and drugs she is entitled to, those responsible will be able to wriggle out through the “as far as possible” loophole.