Need law to protect the HIV positive

Sunday, 1 December 2013 - 12:27pm IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA

According to estimates, about 24 lakh Indians are living with HIV, with Karnataka having the third highest prevalence.

Lakhs of sufferers demanding a legal protection continue to wait as the HIV/AIDS bill that was formulated six years ago has not received parliamentary consent yet.

"We hope the bill that has come back to the health ministry will be presented in the Rajya Sabha during the winter session of the parliament," said Reny Jacob, national advocacy director of World Vision India.

The bills cover several crucial aspects of protection for affected people, including one against discrimination, a special provision for women and children, access to treatment and health ombudsman in every district.

To Nethra (name changed), an HIV positive student of a private college in KR Puram, discrimination is obvious at every level. The 21-year-old, who is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in commerce, aspires to be a human resource manager.

"The questions about my future and the worry that I will die soon daunt me. But my mother, who also has HIV, works in the garment industry and is my strength," the young poet, dramatist, public speaker and painter said.

"Everyone respects a good looking person. But the disease took the physical beauty away from me and even my teachers look at me with disgust. They ask me questions I don't know and whip me severely. They publicly point out my chapped skin. And my own uncle is not any different. He asked me not to wash vessels or chop vegetables not out of care, but of the fear of spreading the virus."

Her mother earns Rs 5,000 a month, half of which is spent on their treatment and her college fees of Rs 22,000 is a struggle, involving pledging of ornaments and a vicious cycle of loans.

To the bold girl, the only aim is to move away from being a patient below poverty line constantly seeking financial help from others to being able to help people around her. "I hope the bill will help people like me to complete our education and find a job that will help us sustain our lives," she remarked hopefully.

Reflecting the urgency of the bill to be passed in the winter session of the parliament was Kumar (name changed), another victim of the perilous virus who works as a labourer. Having received financial support and vocational training through World Vision India, a Christian humanitarian organisation, the 19-year-old school dropout still finds it challenging to meet treatment and household expenses after the disease took his father away.

"If we get permanent jobs, we will be able to stand on our own feet and if we get free medical aid, we will have the health to work."

The HIV positive community now believes that even though there may be gaps in the bill, it should be passed and can be improved in the years to come, Jacob shared.

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