India, which has the world’s second largest HIV/AIDS population, plans to introduce a law to stop discrimination against people infected with the virus, the health minister said on Monday.
A huge stigma is attached to people who are HIV-positive in India and many of the country’s 5.1 million people with AIDS face severe discrimination because of widespread lack of awareness about the illness.
Activists say many employees of hotels, factories and textile firms have lost jobs after testing positive. They are either forced to quit, given early retirement or declared unfit to work.
“We have finalised draft legislation to end discrimination against AIDS patients,” Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told an AIDS conference. “It has gone to the law ministry and will be presented to parliament.”
India’s HIV problem has assumed serious proportions despite health programmes to halt its spread. Over the years, HIV/AIDS has moved beyond traditionally high-risk groups such as prostitutes, drug users and homosexuals.
Experts say the number of those infected could quadruple by 2010 and the World Bank has warned the disease would become the single largest cause of death in the world’s second-most populous country unless there is progress on prevention.
“People living with HIV/AIDS face stigma and discrimination and, therefore, care and support to such patients needs to be mainstreamed through general health services,” said a health ministry statement.
The virus is spreading into families, infecting mothers and children, and many people do not even know they are infected. Experts say the most alarming trend is the spread of the disease to villages, with rural India accounting for 59 percent of infections compared with 41 percent in cities.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD