Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday said ministries should make various schemes more accessible to people with HIV/AIDS, from employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme to more access to women and children to Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Addressing the national convention of zila parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV and AIDS, the prime minister said ministries “should also have an ‘HIV sensitive’ policy and programme so that the marginalised populations infected and affected by HIV/AIDS are not denied the benefits of these schemes”.
“Linkages should be made between the HIV and AIDS programme and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to facilitate employment of HIV positive persons. Nutritional needs of HIV positive people, specially women and children, should be tackled by linking them with ICDS and other developmental schemes,” he said.
Singh noted that the challenge of India’s HIV-AIDS policy is to “maintain a fine balance between prevention and treatment strategies”.
“Some of the key priority areas will be preventing new infections in hitherto low prevalence states while consolidating efforts in the high prevalence states,” he added.
There are an estimated 24 lakh people living with HIV/AIDS in India. The prime minister said that the government’s AIDS control programme has been “successful in being able to reduce new HIV/AIDS infections by 50 percent in the last ten years.”
“We have managed to keep our prevalence low with only 0.3 percent adult prevalence and an epidemic concentrated largely among high risk groups,” he said.
However, Manmohan Singh said that there were still a lot of challenges, from reaching out to a large population of young people to ensuring there is no stigma or discrimination towards HIV affected people. “No child should be denied admission in schools and colleges because he or she is afflicted with HIV or because his or her parents are afflicted with this disease. We must ensure that no person loses his or her employment because of HIV. We must see that there is no social ostracisation. We should ensure that women are not doubly stigmatised,” said the prime minister.
Government to drop treatment clause from HIV/AIDS bill
In a setback to those rallying for a legislation that seeks to protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Monday said the government is planning to remove from the proposed bill the chapter of medical treatment.
The minister met a delegation of five from among 200 HIV positive people protesting the delay in introduction of the bill Monday.
“The minister stated the government would be removing the chapter on treatment from the bill. The chapter mandates the government to provide free of cost treatment to people living with HIV as well as free preventive services to protect people from contracting HIV,” a member of the delegation said in a statement.
“The availability of second line treatment continues to be a huge problem. The chapter is vital and the government’s refusal to include it in the bill comes as a huge disappointment to people living with HIV,” he added.
At present, the bill is with the health ministry.
The protestors demanded that the bill be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.
Sahil from the Om Prakash Network of Positive People said: “The bill is very important as it puts an obligation on the state to provide complete treatment, diagnostics and nutritional supplements to all HIV positive people.”
In August 2007, the HIV/AIDS bill prepared by the health ministry was sent to the law ministry, and in March 2010 the law ministry cleared the bill. Since then, it bill is pending with the health ministry.
“We are not sure why the health ministry has become so indifferent towards passing this bill ever since the law ministry cleared it,” an organiser of the protest told IANS.
The minister was non-committal on when the bill would be introduced.
“The minister categorically refused to make a commitment on when the government would finalise the bill and introduce it in parliament,” the statement said.
For the last five years, groups working in the field of HIV, including the HIV positive people, have been demanding early passage of the bill.
On Monday, there was also a conference on HIV/AIDS by the National Forum of Parliamentarians in the capital in which members of the health ministry, UNAIDS and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) participated.