India’s HIV/Aids Law will Help Tackle Stigma of HIV Testing and Treatment

A new law passed by the Indian parliament will serve to protect the human rights of people living with HIV/Aids. However, health advocates feel that the new law does not address treatment concerns adequately.

India’s health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda praised the bill that took over a decade to be passed and called it ‘historic’. He said that he was glad that it was now a ‘criminal offence’ to discriminate against HIV positive people.

The bill comes at a time when there is rampant stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS in India. Researchers and experts supported the bill saying that it would greatly decrease stigma and discrimination in India towards people living with HIV.

New Infections Reduce Significantly

Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs were made free to all patients in India in 2004. This huge step paid off by bringing down the rates of new infections in the country. New infections reduced by 32% in 2015.

Though the overall HIV prevalence rate in India is currently 0.26%, the country still has an estimated 2.1 million HIV positive people. Only about half of these people are currently on ARV treatment.

India’s HIV/Aids programme is largely public-funded but receives generous funding from various international agencies including the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Indian government promised to contribute INR20 billion this year towards the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Low ARV Supply

Many of government run HIV clinics in India face acute shortages of ARVs from time to time, hindering access to those who need them. Numerous reports were made in 2016 on shortages or stock-outs of ARVs at various treatment centers in the New Delhi region.

India’s national HIV/Aids programme also reported running out of children’s antiretroviral syrup in March this year.

Such shortages risk lowering the immunity of patients as well heightening their risk of developing drug resistance. Several studies have already shown that stock-outs are one of the biggest causes of drug resistance to anti-HIV drugs in most developing countries.

Shortages and stock-outs in India are believed to be caused by problems in managing the supply chain and procurement process. Being a large country, different regions have varied forms of infrastructure, leading to interruptions and delays.

Most remote locations have poor infrastructure affecting the way the procurement system is run. Poor internet and late payments are two of the key causes of delayed delivery of medicines which in return causes clinics to run out of supply.

New Law will Increase ARV Demand

Health advocates believe that the new bill will be instrumental in encouraging high risk populations to go for HIV testing and consequently seek treatment. This however, is a problem since there’s already a shortage of treatment drugs.

They feel that more resources should have been spent in strengthening the distribution of ARVs to increase access before dealing with stigmatization. The new bill will only make the government’s task in dealing with HIV harder.

With more people coming out to seek treatment, the government will need to revamp the procurement and distribution of ARVs in different treatment centers across India.