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Sex workers should ?sell pickles and papads instead of their bodies: IGP Vishwas Nangre-Patil

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>To say Vishwas Nangre-Patil (above) has one of the largest fan followings compare​d​ to all his IPS peers both on social media and otherwise would be an understatement. This IGP (Kolhapur range) has always been known for being progressive and a clean cop. Which is why his patriarchal misogyny at a ​recent ​press conference ​in Miraj, western Maharashtra​, came as a shocker.Announcing a crackdown operation against sex workers he wanted to know why they can’t work hard. “They should ​be rehabilitated to make and ​sell pickles and papads instead of their bodies,” he advised without getting into ​circumstances which force women into sex work. And we are not even talking of women who want to do this for a living of their own volition.An activist who has been working on HIV/AIDS awareness in the region for decades said, “Will he be able to match ​the corporate markets that sell papads and pickles? And we are not even talking about ​matching a sex worker’s daily income here.” All ears sir for your response. Hopefully you’ll give the patriarchal conservatism a rest…

Our tailor and the ‘ticking time bomb’

The challenge posed to India by Type 2 diabetes is set to increase further, according to experts

World Aids Day: India can end the epidemic by 2030, says Union Health Minister

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Union Health Minister J P Nadda on Thursday said around two decades ago India was predicted to be the AIDS capital of world but has now “successfully arrested” the epidemic of HIV and claimed that the country can end it by 2030.”Our concerted efforts and strategies have been able to see a success story of India. We can now safely say that we can end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030,” Nadda said during an event to mark World AIDS Day. “There is a consistent decline in HIV prevalence over the years, 57 per cent reduction in the incidences of new infections, and 29 per cent decline also in the number of AIDS-related deaths,” Nadda added. Stating that the Centre has taken major policy decisions towards strengthening the fight against the epidemic, Nadda said that his Ministry has already implemented cut-off level for initiation of Anti Retrieval Therapy (ART) to CD4 count of 500 and is working to raise the bar further to treat every patient.”Government has taken major policy decisions towards strengthening the fight against the epidemic. It has been decided that the National AIDS Control Programme will continue as a Central Sector Scheme.”The Ministry will start ART and the cut-off level for initiation of Anti Retrieval Therapy (ART) will be raised to a CD4 count of 500. This has been now implemented and we are working on raising the bar further to treat all and have started discussions on those lines,” he said.The Union Health Minister said the government is presently treating more than 10 lakh patients with free ARV therapy. He said that the third line ART is now available free under the ART programme.He released the ‘NACO My Stamp’, HIV counselling and testing services guidelines and a booklet on assessment of blood banks in India. Nadda also launched the NACO Mobile Application having a risk calculator on HIV/AIDS, service directory addressing myths and misconceptions regarding the disease and a link for a National Toll Free AIDS Helpline and Social Protection scheme.He also cautioned about the emergence of new pockets of infection, rising trends in some low prevalence states like Orissa, Punjab, Jharkhand while states like Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, AP, Karnataka, Gujarat, Goa continue to have prevalence higher than national averages.

World AIDS Day: Faulty blood transfusions behind 14,774 HIV cases in India

A laboratory assistant examines a blood sample in the northeastern Indian city of Siliguri. Over the last seven years, 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion have been reported in India even as the state governments and the central health ministry deny the crisis or are clueless, an RTI-led investigation by IndiaSpend shows. Reuters

A laboratory assistant examines a blood sample in the northeastern Indian city of Siliguri. Over the last seven years, 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion have been reported in India even as the state governments and the central health ministry deny the crisis or are clueless, an RTI-led investigation by IndiaSpend shows. Reuters

By Nikhil M Babu

New Delhi: Tall, lean and dark, Jaiprakash was an average 11-year-old who loved gully cricket and chips. Then, to his parents’ dismay, the peppy fourth-grader from Junagadh in western Gujarat started falling ill frequently. Finally, he had to drop out of school.

On a December morning five years ago, Jai started bleeding from his nose and mouth. Doctors at the nearest government hospital referred him to another hospital in Rajkot, about 100 km away.

He died the next morning.

It turned out that Jai, who was a Thalassemic patient since he was just a year old, had contracted HIV through blood transfusion at the Junagadh Civil Hospital. And it wasn’t just him; 35 other Thalassemic children being given transfusion at the same hospital had become HIV-infected.

Of them, eight died.

“All our happiness died with our child. Who do we live for now?” said 50-year-old Rafeeq Ranava, Jai’s father, a daily-wage labourer in Junagadh.

Jai’s parents show a framed photograph of the 11-year-old at their one-room rented house in Junagadh, Gujarat. A Thalassemic patient since he was just a year old, Jai had contracted HIV through blood transfusion at the Junagadh Civil Hospital.

Jai’s parents show a framed photograph of the 11-year-old at their one-room rented house in Junagadh, Gujarat. A Thalassemic patient since he was just a year old, Jai had contracted HIV through blood transfusion at the Junagadh Civil Hospital.

An IndiaSpend investigation, through a series of Right to Information (RTI) requests, has revealed that 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion have been reported in India over the last seven years. It also revealed that the Indian government has yet to order a study or inquiry into this medical crisis that puts millions of lives at risk.

Not just that, there has been a 10% rise in the number of such cases over the last one year–from 1,424 in 2014-15 to 1,559 in 2015-16–according to documents obtained, through the RTIs, from that National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the apex government body dealing with India’s HIV/AIDS control programme. (The second of this two-part series will explore the reasons behind this crisis.)

The 10% increase in 2015-16 numbers is significant because it has reversed the near-consecutive decrease in cases in the five preceding years. NACO, however, has downplayed the rise in its report on blood banks: “Due to concerted and active efforts, the prevalence of TTIs (transfusion transmission infections) has come down significantly over the years.”

NACO’s data are based on self-reporting by people at its Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres spread across the country. Referring to this, Sobhini Rajan, additional director general, blood safety, NACO, maintained that the data are “based on responses received from people and it is (sic) not scientifically corroborated”. She also added that the “figures have come down–from around 15% in the 1990s to less than 1% now”.

Image courtesy: Indiaspend.org

Image courtesy: Indiaspend.org

Developed countries rarely report such cases now. Canada, for instance, hasn’t seen a single case of blood transfusion-related HIV since 1985, and the US, since 2008.

While in India, one in every 100 HIV patients could be a victim of infected blood transfusion, the tally in the US is one in 300,000 cases, according to data shared by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US national health agency.

This means that the chances of an HIV patient in India having contracted the virus through a blood transfusion are 3,000 times higher than in the US.

The data shared by the CDC said it diagnosed 312,860 HIV cases in the US between 2008 and 2014. Only one of them, in 2008, was the result of blood transfusion.

Is the government unaware of its own numbers?

The government, meanwhile, seems to be denying its own findings.

“No,” was the minister of state Anupriya Patel’s answer to the question as to whether the “government is aware that a large number of persons across the country have been infected with HIV while getting blood transfusions”, asked in the Lok Sabha in August 2016.

Patel also denied a rise in the number of cases of HIV through blood transfusion, contrary to NACO data.

Separate RTI responses from 22 states and union territories confirmed that none of them have conducted any studies on HIV transmitted through blood transfusions.

The Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society completely denied having such cases within its purview: “In Karnataka, there are no reported cases of HIV being transmitted through blood transfusions. The blood banks in Karnataka are regularly inspected.”

But an RTI response from the NACO has revealed that Karnataka has reported 976 cases of HIV through blood transfusion in the last seven years, and 94 cases in 2015-16 alone.

Some states such as Chhattisgarh replied that “no study on HIV through blood transfusion has been conducted”, while others such as Jharkhand stated that “no such information is available”.

“It’s important that the government conducts a study in this regard so that it can understand what is going wrong. People also need to become more conscious during blood transfusions,” said Sanjeev Sharma, a counsellor at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Delhi, who has been working with HIV patients for the past 18 years.

On the other hand, developed countries such as the US take reported cases very seriously. “Although reported cases of transfusion-transmitted HIV infection are extremely rare, CDC investigates every reported case to gather as much information as possible to ensure the multi-layered system designed to prevent blood contamination is effective,” said Rachel Wingard, a spokesperson for the CDC.

Gujarat reported most cases

Gujarat reported the highest number of HIV infections through blood transfusion in India–2,518 cases–followed by Uttar Pradesh (1,807) and Maharashtra (1,585).

Gujarat reported the most HIV infections through blood transfusions

Image courtesy: Indiaspend.org

The victims of the transfusions at the Junagadh Civil Hospital filed a case in the Gujarat High Court and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was instructed to probe the incident. But the agency filed a closure report in 2014 terming it a case of “negligence” on the part of the hospital. The case is now being re-investigated after the victims and their families protested.

“Most of the victims were poor and could only afford a government hospital,” said Paresh Vaghela, the group’s advocate.

It wasn’t just the infection that victims had to deal with; there was also the social isolation. Once the word was out that Jai was HIV-infected, he barely interacted with anyone. “He loved to go out and play, but in the last few months of his life, he hardly stepped outside the house,” said Ranava.

Tushar, a ninth-grader, who was among the children left sick after the Junagadh transfusion, is still fighting the infection. Rupesh, his father, said that the family keeps the disease a secret. “If people come to know about it, my son will be discriminated against,” he said.

Compensation–either rare or delayed

Cases such as those of Jai and Tushar are hardly rare in India. In May this year, a three-and-a-half-year-old boy was found HIV positive in Assam after blood transfusion, and in August, a four-and-half-year-old boy in Odisha contracted the virus through blood transfusion.

“We’ve come across many such cases in Delhi, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting compensation from hospitals,” said Sharma.

In June 2016, a Maharashtra woman who became HIV positive and lost her newborn after blood transfusion during her pregnancy was compensated after a two-decade-long legal battle.

Meanwhile, Junagadh victims and their families are despondent. “We thought the CBI would help us but now we’re starting to lose hope,” said Rupesh.

At his rented one-room house in Junagadh, about 400 km from the state capital, Ranava makes only one demand: “We need justice for our son.”

( Names have been changed to protect identities of victims)

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 09:54 IST

Important bills to be tabled in both Houses of Parliament today

Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill, Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill, Employee’s Compensation Act and HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill are set to be tabled in the Houses. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims) Bill is scheduled to come up for consideration and passage in the Lok Sabha on Sunday.The Bill will consolidate the existing laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction, legal proceedings in connection with vessels, their arrest, detention, sale and other matters connected. The Mental Healthcare Bill is also scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha. In the Rajya Sabha, the Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill will come up for consideration and passage.The Bill, seeking to amend the Employee’s Compensation Act, 1923, has been passed by the Lok Sabha.The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 is also scheduled to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha. Union Health Minister JP Nadda will move the Bill to provide for the prevention and control of the spread of HIV and AIDS. It will also protect the human rights of persons affected by the virus.

HRD ministry wants the ‘sex’ out of sex education: Let’s solve the problem by ignoring it?

According to a report in The Telegraph India, the NDA government had told an expert panel earlier this year that the words ‘sex’ or ‘sexual’ could not be allowed in its recommendations on adolescent education, which includes sex education for teenagers.

The reason: Words like ‘sex’ or ‘sexual’ could offend some people.

The report says that in its initial draft on education in India, the expert panel — headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian — had included half a page on adolescent education. The original draft had talked about the need to address “the health of adolescents, particularly the reproductive and sexual health needs”.

school children look at exhibits at 'Antarang' (inner view), India's first ever sex unicorn musuem. Reuters

School children look at exhibits at ‘Antarang’ (inner view), India’s first ever sex unicorn museum. Reuters

It had also talked about how ignorance and myths among adolescents about sex made them vulnerable to drug abuse and HIV/AIDS transmission.

But the HRD ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, decided that this entire section on adolescent education needed to be reduced to one sentence: “The Adolescent Education Programme and National Population Education Programme need to be extended to all schools as early as possible.”

That’s it. All the problems regarding sex, sexual abuse, sexual frustration, drug abuse and the confusion or ignorance among youth regarding sex can obviously be addressed by that one sentence without mentioning the words ‘sex’ or ‘sexual’ even once, according to the government.

The rest of this article has been written by following the logic of the government, just to give you an idea of the implications of that logic. Therefore, from this point onwards, all the words that ‘some’ people will find offensive (according to the HRD Ministry) in this article have been replaced with less ‘offensive’ words. Here we go:

Let’s talk about sex unicorns. This sentence itself could get you into some trouble in schools in India (maybe), where the taboo associated with unicorns is so strong that the very mention of the word actually does offend a lot of people, much like how the name of Lord Voldemort He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named spread panic in the fictional wizarding world in the Harry Potter books.

In the books though, the characters eventually overcome their fear of the word. The same, unfortunately, is not true in our country.

This is exactly why sex unicorn education is so important for the teenagers in our country. It is very well known that adolescence is a time of raging hormones and some very crucial physiological changes in the body, which leads to a lot of confusion about unicorns among the youth.

But the state of unicorn education and unicorn awareness in India is very bad.

According to this report by Youth Coalition for Sexual Unicorn and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR), between 42 and 52 percent of young students in India felt they do not have adequate knowledge about unicorns.

More disturbingly, the report said that a study by Unicef and NGO Prayas, which interviewed 12,247 children and 2,324 young adults in 13 states in India, concluded that 53 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 12 were victims of sexual abuse.

In cases of child sexual abuse, “In most cases, children do not share it with anyone and even when they complain, the parents do not know where to take them and avoid going to the police stations,” Jaipur Police Commissioner Sanjay Agarwal had told The Indian Express. He added that children were not even aware of the concepts of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’.

A big reason behind the large number of sexual assault cases and the rampant sexism unicornism in a large part of our society is the lack of proper unicorn education.

“A lot of the social issues we see today in India like rape or misogyny can be traced back to the fact that children are consuming the wrong kind of information,” Nilima Achwal, founder and CEO of Iesha Learning (which offers to teach adolescents about unicorns), had told The Hindu.

The YCSRR report also said that a survey conducted by India Today had revealed that in 11 cities in India, half of the youngsters interviewed did not know enough to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

Moreover, parents also have incorrect ideas about unicorn education. The YCSRR report added that parents believe that unicorn education in schools will increase “risky behaviour” among adolescents. But a World Health Organisation (WHO) study showed that unicorn education, in fact, delays the start of unicorn activity and encourages safe unicorn activity.

Despite these crucial facts, the central government of India is not even willing to utter the words which matter. Basically, the government’s solution is to solve the problem by not talking about it.

Let’s get real.

The government, or any political party for that matter, tends to act on or talk about issues which fetches them votes. That is why the government was obsessed with not offending anyone. The truth is that the s-word does offend a lot of people in our society.

But the very denial of the presence of our sexual urges to the extent that we shudder if we utter the word ‘sex’ is as ridiculous as the usage of ‘unicorn’ in this article.

And that is the point. Until we get rid of the notion of evil or malice associated with sex, the powers-that-be will keep coming up with ingeniously daft ways to further obfuscate the issue.

Over half of gay men without peer support are victims of violence in India

By Sumit Chaturvedi

For all the 22 years of his young life, Ajith (name changed to protect identity) has had to hide his sexual preference for male partners. The management graduate, who works at a hotel in Chennai, comes from Kambam, a small Tamil Nadu village.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Ajith’s parents and younger sister are aware of his sexual orientation but he fears the abuse, attacks and ridicule he would have to face in Kambam as an openly gay man. But in Chennai, where he is less secretive about his orientation, he said, he feels much safer thanks to the support of the community organisations (COs) for men with alternate sexual identities.

A recent survey conducted across five Indian states by Swasti Health Resource Centre for 12 such COs has proved him right: gay men who seek peer support were far safer than those living with their parents, most often without outing themselves. The aim of the study was to get a better understanding of the profiles and needs of those who approach the COs for help.

Living with parents, afraid to seek help

More than half of all men who face physical violence (52.4%), sexual abuse (55%) and emotional torture (46.5%) were still living with their parents and mostly in the closet, according to the survey. The attackers, it turned out, are most often strangers, clients (in the case of male sex workers) and goons.

The likely reason for this is that it is tougher for men living with their families to seek peer support from other homosexuals. In contrast, the study found that those living with long/short-term partners or peers face very little violence.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

Harassed, in multiple ways

The study conducted between April and October, 2015, covered Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It found that of 8,549 respondents, 14% have faced some kind of emotional violence, 8.9% sexual violence and 9% physical violence.

Of those interviewed, 1,762 reported facing 2,795 incidents of violence–an average of about 1.6 attacks per person. Most of the violence is perpetrated by clients on male sex workers (39.4%), followed by strangers (24%) and goons (17.5%).

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

In many families, there is severe pressure on gay men to marry. The survey found that 8.9% of respondents were married and 42.5% were separated.

How existing laws make matters worse

There are an estimated 3.1 million men who prefer sex with men in India, according to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS Report. HIV prevalence among this group in the country is 14.5%, according to this 2011 working paper by the Global Commission on Law and HIV.

IndiaSpend-Logo11

Criminalisation of homosexuality makes it tougher for homosexual men to seek medical help for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “Repressive legal contexts and pervasive social stigma can limit access for these men to appropriate services for STIs and HIV, including prevention, treatment and can even be life threatening,” the global commission’s working paper said. After being decriminalised by the Delhi High Court in 2009, homosexuality was re-criminalised in India by the Supreme Court in 2013.

On October 5, 2016, the union cabinet ratified the 2014 HIV/AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The long-awaited bill seeks to prohibit discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS. But, as human rights lawyer Deya Bhattacharya wrote in her piece in Firstpost, “the bill does not elucidate on the legal dissonance between its provisions of non-discrimination and other acts and case-law that discriminate against sex-workers, homosexuals and transgenders”.

Violence in sex work

For men engaged in sex work, especially those with a high client load, the study found that the danger of violence is multiplied.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

However, low income from sex work results in even higher prevalence of STI symptoms. Similarly, men with lower weekly client load (four or less) reported higher STI prevalence (8.3%) than those who dealt with more clients (4.3%). This could be because the lesser the men earn in total–from all work including sex work–the less likely they are to undergo testing for STIs/HIV.

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

How COs help

Men who face violence are most likely (41.3%) to not report if it is physical, less likely (39.8%) if it is sexual and least likely (32.4%) if it is emotional. Ajith said that, in Chennai, it is easier to seek police protection against violence through COs than as an individual.

“We can reach out to the network when violence occurs. If I am standing at a bus stop and if cops come to inquire, we can call our CO for help,” he said.

The study showed that COs provide a strong support system for respondents engaged in sex work and other professions. A total of 6,482 men or 75% are registered with COs. Most cases reported to COs relate to emotional violence (51%).

Source: Swasti Health Resource Centre

(Chaturvedi is an Independent Media Consultant with Swasti Health Resource Centre, Bangalore and a blogger at OpinionTandoor.in.)

The new HIV/AIDS Bill is great, but ineffective when the vulnerable are criminals under other laws

After years of deliberating on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, the Union Cabinet has finally approved it, with amendments, on Wednesday in a meeting that was chaired by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The Bill is a long-awaited legislation that seeks to end societal stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV (PLHIVs) and ensure their right to privacy.

The Bill takes a human-rights approach to public health, and makes antiretroviral treatment a legal right of HIV/AIDS patients. This would mean that it is now obligatory for the Central and State governments to provide for anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and arrange for the management of risk reduction of vulnerable populations. The legislation prohibits arbitrary and discriminatory acts by the state against PLHIVs and their families. The HIV/AIDS Bill, therefore, has the foundations of civil liberties at its centre, providing for positive and negative obligations for the State towards approximately 21 lakh PLHIVs in India.

Populations who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS are female sex workers (FSWs), men who have sex with men (MSMs), transgenders and intravenous drug-users. The Bill seeks to protect these high-risk groups from discrimination, both through administration of treatment for their infections as well as improving their access to welfare schemes and services. Any discrimination or unfair treatment against PLHIVs and their families in their employment, education, healthcare and provision of insurance is prohibited; they also cannot be banned from housing or renting property and from standing for public or private office. Moreover, by bringing in legal accountability in the treatment and care of the PLHIVs, the Bill also mandates for a formal mechanism to probe on complaints of violations of the Act. Most importantly, it seeks to safeguard the privacy of the PLHIVs by stating that no HIV test, medical treatment, or research will be conducted on a person without his/her informed consent.

The Bill also makes it mandatory for institutions and establishments keeping records of PLHIVs to adopt data protection measures. By providing for a progressionist approach that safeguards the human rights of the affected, while simultaneously providing for risk and vulnerability reduction, that has its roots in social and economic justice, the Bill is an example of sound affirmative action.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

However, will the adoption of this Bill be action enough for a bias-free environment for the people living with HIV and their families? While the Bill mandates for prevention of HIV/AIDS, will it be able to protect those who are most vulnerable to infections, namely the high-risk groups (intravenous drug-users, FSWs, MSMs, and transgendered individuals)? Moreover, the Bill does not elucidate on the legal dissonance between its provisions of non-discrimination and other acts and case-law that discriminate against sex-workers, homosexuals and transgenders.

For example, the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956, that, despite its silence on the legality of sex-workers, is used by law enforcement to criminalize, punish and prosecute female sex workers. Moreover, the LGBTQI population also faces egregious human rights violations by the State and law enforcement; the Supreme Court judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation sought to reinstate the archaic Section 377 of the IPC, thereby validating the criminalizing treatment of the State towards the LGBTQI community. By not safeguarding the rights of sex-workers, MSMs and transgenders, the State continues to push them into further victimhood. How does the HIV/AIDS Bill, then, epitomise the clauses on anti-discrimination of the PLHIVs, when the most vulnerable continue to live, in the fringes of society, their identities, governed by morality, but still unprotected by any legislation?

The HIV/AIDSs is, by all means, a cause for revelry within the communities as well as for advocates for the vulnerable. However, in my opinion, the HIV/AIDS Bill cannot be isolated from all the other issues currently tabled in the Parliament and the Supreme Court – the passing of an Anti-Trafficking Bill that does not incriminate all sex-workers; the ratifying of the Transgender Persons Bill, 2016 that provides for a comprehensive understanding of the transgender identity; the five-judge Constitution Bench that will decide the fate of Section 377, and therefore, the fates of the MSM, gays and transgender communities.

It cannot be denied that HIV/AIDS patients have had an arduous journey, legally. In December 2010, the Supreme Court struck down all reservations of the Central government to repudiate its obligation towards PLHIVs by stating that receiving second-line ART treatment to all HIV/AIDS patients was subsumed under Article 21 of the Constitution – the right to life. The Cabinet’s nod to the Bill is, therefore, commendable. The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, JP Nadda has stated – “The Bill seeks to prevent stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. These amendments will allow families that have faced discrimination to go to court against institutions or persons being unfair”; but how will the Bill have this power when many of the vulnerable don’t have the luxury to express themselves or define their identities and are continued victims of violence and stigma in both public and private spaces?

The author is a human rights lawyer and researcher based in Bengaluru.

HIV Bill receives cabinet nod

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After being stuck in limbo for two years, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 on Wednesday. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.The bill makes sure that no person can be tested for HIV without his/her consent. Also the HIV-affected patient has to consent to his/her treatment. Also, confidentiality related to HIV testing, treatment and clinical research has to be maintained.The bill further states that no person can be discriminated on grounds of being HIV positive when it comes to employment, admission in educational establishments, provision of health services, residing or renting property, standing for public or private office or provision of insurance.The Bill requires that “No person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order”Between 2007 to 2014, the draft bill was shuttling between the health and law ministries. “Between 2007 and 2011, there was a massive fight with the government to amend the draft. In the earlier draft, the clauses of confidentiality, treatment and consent were deleted. This was draconian,” said Raman Chawla of Lawyers’ Collective in New Delhi.Legal experts are not satisfied with the bill as it stands today. “The bill states that the government should provide treatment to HIV-infected persons as far as possible. We demand free and complete treatment as a matter of right. Tomorrow, if a patient is denied treatment, as a legal right, s/he cannot drag the government to the court of law,” said Chawla.Activists said that they have been fighting tooth and nail for the bill to be converted into a law since over a decade and a half now. “The deliberations to have such a bill started in 1999. A draft bill was then submitted by Lawyers Collective to the Advisory Working Group under National AIDS Control Organisation in 2007,” said Ganesh Acharya, an HIV activist.Speaking on such a massive delay in introduction of the bill into the parliament, Acharya said, “We have conducted lots of morchas and dharnas to fast track the passage of the bill. Yet, our rights have not been ascertained on paper because of stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.”The latest case of discrimination being last month, when a pregnant woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district was allegedly thrown out of the district hospital after it was known that she was HIV positive. Dna had earlier reported about the 28-year-old woman constable’s fight against Maharashtra State Home Department after she was discriminated against and denied her job due to her HIV positive status, even after she had cleared her written and physical examinations. Later, the state was compelled to reverse their orders and give her the job.Discrimination based on HIV status, nonavailability of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) drugs on time and delay in release of payments of ground workers is a pertinent reality since many years. “That the bill has received the cabinet nod is a welcome move, however as I see the situation we will still have to fight on subjective basis against drug stock outs, non-payment of dues and discrimination,” said Amol Devre, member, Network of Positive People, Mumbai.The bill was introduced by the former Congress government’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Rajya Sabha. Currently, India has no existing anti-discrimination legislation which would cover discrimination on grounds of HIV. The seeds of having such a bill in place to protect the rights of HIV-infected persons were sown in 1999, after non-profit Lawyers Collective started holding discussions with stakeholders. Discussions revolved around crucial issues like Right to Marry, Right to Equal Employment and non-discrimination at workplace, HIV testing in Armed Forces before induction amongst others. In 2002, a process of drafting HIV/AIDS Bill was started by Advisory Working Group chaired by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). Seven years after submitting the draft law, the bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2014. Two years hence, it has received the Cabinet’s nod.Currently, India has close to twenty-one lakh people estimated to be living with HIV. It has no existing anti-discrimination law which would cover discrimination on grounds of HIV.

Union Cabinet approves amendments to HIV and AIDS Bill, 2014

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments to the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014.The HIV and AIDS Bill, 2014 has been drafted to safeguard the rights of people living with HIV and affected by HIV. The provisions of the Bill seek to address HIV-related discrimination, strengthen the existing programme by bringing in legal accountability and establish formal mechanisms for inquiring into complaints and redressing grievances.It seeks to prevent and control the spread of HIV and AIDS, prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, provides for informed consent and confidentiality with regard to their treatment, places obligations on establishments to safeguard rights of persons living with HIV arid create mechanisms for redressing complaints.The Bill also aims to enhance access to health care services by ensuring informed consent and confidentiality for HIV-related testing, treatment and clinical research.It lists various grounds on which discrimination against HIV positive persons and those living with them is prohibited. These include the denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment with regard to:(1) Employment (2) Educational Establishments (3) Health Care Services (4) Residing or Renting Property (5) Standing for Public or Private Office (6) Provision of insurance (unless based on actuarial studies).The requirement for HIV testing as a pre-requisite for obtaining employment or accessing health care or education is also prohibited.The Bill also prohibits any individual from publishing information or advocating feelings of hatred against HIV positive persons and those living with them. It also provides for guardianship for minors.There are approximately 21 lakh persons estimated to be living with HIV in India.

Lorry-themed condoms tackle India HIV

It is estimated two million Indian lorry drivers regularly use prostitutes – but barely 10% of them are using condoms. To help raise awareness, lorry-themed condoms are being sold.

LGBT are most hated minority on earth; look at how UN treats us for proof

Even as the news of the Orlando massacre started trickling in on an otherwise sultry Sunday, some of us were at a party celebrating the successful Kashish Film Festival later that evening. There was a sober time when the otherwise ecstatic LGBT party goers turned round and asked “Why do they hate us so much?” The Orlando massacre is only a high note in a series of events that seem to be showing a new global trend: mainstream societies, allegedly heterosexual, have prioritized a new enemy. Though hacking innocent Hindus has become passé in Bangladesh, the killing of Xulaz Mannan was unique in that the killers went to his home and brutalised him before hacking him to death. And now in Orlando, a mass killer’s father says “He was very angry when he saw two men kissing”.

Representational Image. AFP.Representational Image. AFP.

Representational Image. AFP.

From Dr Subramanian Swamy to Baba Ramdev to IS/Daesh to evangelist Christians like Uma Shankar in Chennai and scores of Baptist Churches who are actually “celebrating” the mass murders, we need to think why we seem to be up against God and his people in the second decade of this century when we are supposed to have spawned scientific and rational societies all over the world.

The first shock was last week when the United Nations General Assembly met to pass resolutions on the health needs of most-at-risk groups like Men-Having-Sex-With-Men (MSM or the generic phrase for homosexuals), sex workers and ID Users (IDU). The simple 26-page document drafted for the occasion, became a battlefield with powerful countries like Russia, the 53-strong Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the Vatican – opposed even the mention of the three most-at-risk groups as “simply unacceptable” (Russia’s words) with the added support of Saudi Arabia which ironically sits on the UN Human Rights Commission with clear Sharia laws mandating homosexuals be executed by swords and axes

The defeat for LGBTI activists in the UNGA made the Global Best Practice officer at UNDP, Clifton Cortez fume:

“Transgender people, men who have sex with men, and sex workers are each mentioned only once in the 26 page document…” and that’s only to acknowledge that we have the distinction of being the most vulnerable to the virus! Government of Russia, shame on you. Government of Poland, shame on you. Holy See, shame on you. Governments of members of the Organization of Islamic States, shame on you all. Most of the governments of African states, shame on you. Call out the culprits. And shame on the LGBTI “ally” governments, starting with the USA, Canada and the Europeans, for showing that we’re not worth the political embarrassment and career blackeye, to the diplomats in charge of the negotiations, that they would experience by standing up for our communities and disavowing consensus on a document that is not only deeply flawed but a license for governments to ignore the HIV crisis among us.

SILENCE=DEATH.”

Even India’s Union Health Minister Nadda stated rather airily that “We will offer treatment for all who need it”, a puffed up add-on to “Sabsa Saath, Sab Ki Vikas” but did not mention the real populations who needed it. HIV among gay men in India is ten times the prevalence in the general populations but then that’s another matter that the Supreme Court is still to even decide on their being criminals or not. Even the cultural acceptance of hijras with long eulogies being sung in the Lok Sabha to the marginalization of “our Tritiya Panthi sisters” did not hide the fact that gay men did not matter. Why? Because as our learned MPs said: ”Homosexuals chose their preferences” and hence any reconsideration on Section 377 was “prone to misuse”. These were words used on TV by a journalist known to be backed by the RSS.

The concern may be genuine but not valid. In his words: ”by removal of Section 377, if we allow you consent then tomorrow you will want to have sex in the streets openly”. Curiously, both in Britain and in the words of the Delhi High Court judgment what was demanded was a reading down of the anti-sodomy law to read “consensual sex between two consenting adults in private”. The reform of the old anti-sodomy law in Britain was followed by stricter policing of public places so homosexuals stuck to the letter of the reformed law. Yet the anxieties remain not only in Britain but all over Europe,

The most homophilic country in Europe, France, saw the one of the biggest rallies against reforming of the laws to allow same-sex marriage late last year in Paris fully backed by the Roman Catholic Church and the French Ulema together mobilizing over a lakh of ‘concerned citizens’. They had the implicit backing of the new Right Wing parties sprouting all over Europe seeing homosexuals as the new danger to the fabric of society. In Italy, despite a sound defeat of its position on abortion, the Vatican has been successfully blowing hot and cold on homosexuals rights with Pope Francis refusing to judge them but making contrary noises on same-sex marriage.

Orlando is thus a wakeup call for LGBT all over the world to organise locally but think globally. Though the killings took place in sunny Florida very close to the Bible Belt, they also seem to have happened on gay territory – the bar Pulse, was started as a memorial to a brother who lost his life to HIV/AIDS. Hence it was a kind of memorial to what gay men have been undergoing in America ever since the AIDS Epidemic wiped out whole swathes of gay populations centred in New York and San Francisco. Now even that territory has been desecrated with homosexual blood in one huge wave of hatred for sexual minorities.
It is too early to even analyze what the consequences of this new horror will visit upon the LGBTI communities in America. Presently, nearly all the gay e-lists and portals have cautioned people not to allow a backlash of Islamophobia though that has been a lurking under-current with Trump ramping it up. But there is a hopeful rising trend that we need to delink generic religion from education, public discourse and even electrol politics.

Meanwhile, Fabrice Houdart, senior officer at the UN Human Rights Council and also senior officer at the World Bank wrote this sad FB post on the Orlando massacre:

Our case rests!

Nadda says India supplies 80% drugs to combat AIDS globally

United Nations: India has said that over 80 percent of the drugs used globally to combat the deadly AIDS are supplied by Indian pharmaceutical firms and the low-cost generic medicines have helped scale up access to HIV treatment across developing countries.

Union Health Minister JP Nadda. AFPUnion Health Minister JP Nadda. AFP

Union Health Minister JP Nadda. AFP

Addressing the high-level General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS, Minister for Health and Family Welfare JP Nadda
said that India had faced the “spectre of disastrous consequences” on account of AIDS epidemic 15 years back but was able to manage the challenge effectively.

The country today is significantly contributing in the global fight against AIDS as more than 80 percent of the
antiretroviral drugs used globally are supplied by the Indian pharmaceutical industry, he said.

The UN General Assembly adopted a new political declaration that emphasised on the critical importance of
affordable medicines to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

The minister also underlined that the international community cannot afford a rebound of the AIDS epidemic and
that developed countries should do more and enhance their commitments to fight the worldwide scourge.

“Targeted interventions based on close collaboration with and empowerment of communities and civil society with
appropriate funding from the government have helped deliver key life saving services to the affected population,” Nadda said in his address to the 193-member Assembly at the United Nations on Wednesday.

Deaths due to AIDS in India have been reduced by nearly 55 percent since 2007, while new HIV infections saw a
reduction by 66 percent since 2000.

Around a million people affected by AIDS are currently on antiretroviral therapy.

“These remarkable successes would not have been possible without access to affordable medicines. The low cost generic medicines produced by the Indian pharmaceutical industry have been instrumental in scaling up access to HIV treatment not only in India but in other parts of the world, especially in the developing countries most affected by this scourge,” Nadda said.

He added that the “accessibility and affordability” of drugs has helped save millions of lives around the world.

India’s emphasis on providing low-cost generic medicines to combat HIV/AIDS was echoed in the UNGA declaration, which recognises the “critical importance of affordable medicines, including generics, in scaling up access to affordable HIV treatment”.

Outlining ways in which the international community can act together over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS, Nadda stressed on need to ensure access to affordable medicines and commodity security.

He said India is committed to maintain the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities.

“We reiterated this commitment last year during the Third India-Africa Summit, responding to call from our brothers and sisters in Africa,” he said.

PTI

Andhra Pradesh: Increasing HIV cases reported from Amaravati area

The health department of the Andhra Pradesh government has been working towards bringing down HIV rates and a marginal drop has been recorded. However, in Guntur district, new HIV cases have been reported which has caused much concerns. A report in The New Indian Express states that the AP government believes that this could harm the image of future capital Amaravati which is coming up in Guntur district. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The latest data put out by the daily shows that Guntur, Krishna and East Godavari districts have high number of HIV cases but the new cases that are emerging is worrying the administration. HIV tests were conducted on 4.9 lakh people in the state between April and September 2015. The daily reports that 12,742 people were found to be HIV positive and 42% of these cases were in Guntur, Krishna and East Godavari districts. In 2015-16, 24,957 new HIV cases came up in the state. Of these new cases, 3,781 were recorded in Guntur, 3,538 in East Godavari and 2,693 in Krishna district.There are more than 5 lakh people in the state with HIV, of which information regarding 1.5 lakh patients are currently not available with the government. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu wants to make Amaravati a world-class capital and a tourism hub. However, officials feel that the rising number of HIV cases will affect the image of Amaravati. “The high prevalence of HIV in Guntur district is worrying us all. We are making all out effort to bring awareness among people about the prevalence of HIV and the measures to be taken to prevent this dreaded disease. But, still new cases are appearing,” joint director of AP State AIDS Control society (APSACS) Dr P Rajendra Prasad was quoted as saying.HIV cases in 2015-16 (Source: The New Indian Express)

Govt clamps down foreign-funded NGOs; health programmes on HIV/AIDS, others may suffer

India is dismissing dozens of foreign-funded health experts working inside the government, a move seen as part of a broader clampdown on the influence of non-government organisations (NGOs) on public policy.The loss of these professionals, most of whom are Indian nationals, has raised concern that signature programmes to combat HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis may suffer just as they face funding shortages due to slow bureaucracy. A shortage of technical experts has for years forced India to turn to the World Health Organization (WHO) and aid groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to manage large-scale public health schemes.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Of the nearly 140 people who run India’s HIV/AIDS programme, 112 are consultants seconded from foreign organisations. Some are engaged in planning and monitoring of prevention activities in high-risk Indian states.Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ordered 45 of them to be removed from service by June as they had served more than three years, according to health ministry officials and a document seen by Reuters.By December, 70 of these experts will leave, while others who have worked for less than three years face a government screening committee to decide whether they are still needed. “It’s like questioning our integrity just because we are foreign-funded,” said an HIV/AIDS consultant who worked in the health department for three years and is now looking for a job.INFECTIONS REDUCEDThe programme has won global acclaim for sharply reducing new HIV infections, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. India recorded 86,000 new infections last year.S. Selvakumar, a joint secretary in the Finance Ministry who signed off on clarifications to the new policy rules in January, said he did not know why consultants working in the government were being removed. He said the ministry had received a request from the cabinet secretariat to compile a list of government consultants last May.Two other Finance Ministry officials said the move was driven by fears that foreign agencies could use their consultants to influence policy in New Delhi. “Their loyalties would be divided,” said one of the officials.Security of information was also a concern, the other official said.More than 500 consultants work across the Indian government, about half in the health sector alone. Some are from Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF. A DFID spokesman said the department had “not received any complaints from the government of India about data theft or undue influence on policies”. A spokeswoman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it would adhere to the directive, which would help India achieve and sustain health impacts “if accompanied by systematic human resource planning and enhancement of skills”.CONTROLS ON NGOSThe WHO’s India office said it had not been approached by the government. “We are aware of the matter. It is too early for us to comment on how it may impact our work,” Henk Bekedam, WHO’s India representative, said in a statement.UNICEF did not respond to a request for comment. The move against consultants who are employed by government departments but get their salaries from their parent organisations comes at a time when the government has tightened controls on foreign NGOs operating in India.Last year it froze funding and cancelled licences for thousands of non-profit organisations for not declaring international donations. The government said it was seeking to bring transparency to the functioning of these entities.The new rules apply only to government workers financed by global aid agencies.A senior government source said the new policy would help streamline the system and ensure the consultants all had proper approval. Nearly 70 experienced consultants in the tuberculosis programme risk losing their jobs following the government order. India accounts for almost a quarter of global TB cases and the most deaths – 220,000 in 2014. Keshav Desiraju, a former health secretary, said consultants play a vital role in running public health schemes but were not involved in policy formulation. “Consultants do a lot of data work, and it will be immature to suggest they can influence government policy,” he told Reuters.

Why has MSF chosen India to challenge Pfizer’s patent on a pneumonia vaccine

International not-for-profit Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has taken on US pharma giant Pfizer, challenging the latter’s patent for a pneumonia vaccine priced at $100 a vial, in the Indian Patent Office. If the patent is granted, Pfizer’s monopoly on the drug could stop the production of generic, affordable version of the vaccine, making patients pay dearly from their pockets.MSF’s opposition is to stop this from happening. MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, has not only given a direct challenge to Pfizer, but taken a stand against the growing the big pharma lobby pressure in India.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A global heavyweight when it comes to public health care, MSF filed this opposition on 12 March. It’s primary interest is to secure an affordable supply of pneumonia vaccines for its project across African countries. The vaccine is needed urgently there, and India is famous for manufacturing cheap generic drugs used in African Countries. Its second reason is to support the public safeguards that come with India’s patent laws, so that Indian generic companies can continue producing drugs.Pneumonia, said MSF, kills about a million children a year, making it a leading cause of childhood deaths. The supply for a pneumonia vaccine is imperative in different parts of the world, not just India.”India is called the pharmacy of the developing world. UNICEF buys 90% of their vaccines from here,” said Shailly Gupta, deputy head of MSF Access Campaign that works towards affordable medicines. “A patent to Pfizer will impact the supply of medicines to other counties with need.” Already, two generic companies, Serum Institute of India Ltd and Panacea Biotec, have cheaper pneumonia vaccines in development. According to Gupta, Serum means to price its vaccine at $6. Dr. Rajeev Dhele, executive Director at Serum, told dna that the current patent laws do make it very hard for generic companies to make these drugs; they have to put in extra effort to create technology that does not infringe on the originator company’s.MSF has previously supported civil society groups and generic companies in opposition claims. One such was a successful pre-grant opposition against German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim for nevirapine syrup, used for children with HIV/AIDS. The case was won by Positive Women’s Network and the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS in 2007.There have been pre-grant oppositions against AIDS drugs manufactured by Gilead, tenofovir, and Roche, valganciclovir.However, the situation has changed, as Gupta explained, especially after news reports emerged of US India Business Council (USIBC) and US Chamber of Commerce having received “private assurances” from Indian officials that the government will not use ‘compulsory licensing’ (CL) for commercial purposes. Such licences are granted to Indian generic companies to produce medicines patented by other pharmaceuticals in either a case of national emergency, or when a generic company approaches the government, or when the government issues notifications for drugs it deems unaffordable or unavailable in India. This private assurance, on which the Indian government as a whole, and the union health ministry has so far declined to comment, would severely impact production of generic medicines.As Gupta says, the strength of Indian companies lies in their ability to reverse engineer. Earlier, they would quickly recreate these drugs and sell them while a Western firm would apply for patents in India. Even if a firm would take the Indian company to court, judges rarely granted stays on the production of generic drugs.”This has changed. Courts have started granting stays, and the now generic companies no longer want to challenge originator companies holding patents,” said Gupta. Despite Make in India, she said, Indian generic firms no longer feel they can work in this atmosphere. Many have started tying up with originator companies, letting them fix the price, leading to fears of impacts on patients when pharmacies only have expensive drugs to offer.

Women sex workers, HIV+ patients to get easy loans in Chattisgarh

The Chhattisgarh government has decided to provide loans to women HIV positive patients and sex workers at nominal rates to enable them to take up self-employment activities, a state official said.”To associate HIV positive women and female sex workers with economic activities, they would be provided with personal and group loans under the loan scheme of ‘Chhattisgarh Mahila Kosh’,” a public relation official here said today.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Under the scheme, these women would be provided personal loan of Rs 10,000 and group loan of Rs 1 lakh at nominal annual interest rate of 3%, he said.The state’s Women and Child Development department has issued a circular to all District Collectors and other concerned officials in this regard.As per the circular, women who are HIV-affected or involved in paid sex would be given loans, so as to help them take up economic activities for self-employment.This loan would be provided on the basis of the eligibility after the beneficiaries produce medical certificate issued by a government doctor, it said.The loans would be sanctioned after the proposal in this regard presented through District Manager of Chhattisgarh Mahila Kosh gets approved by the District Collector concerned, it said.The state’s Women and Child Development department has been running the Chhattisgarh Mahila Kosh loan scheme since 2003 to provide easy loans to women self-help groups.

West Bengal – Private school bans HIV+ boy, forces grandmother to take ‘purity’ test

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a notice to the West Bengal government following reports that an HIV positive boy was removed from a school in South 24-Parganas district.The Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that a private school in Bishnupur area of South 24-Parganas banned an HIV positive student and also forced his maternal grandmother, a teacher in the same school, to take a ‘purity test’ and since then she has been a target to repeated verbal abuse. “The content of the press report, if true, raise a serious issue of violation of human rights of the victim, most importantly, the Right to Education of the seven-year-old boy,” the Commission observed while issuing notice to the state Chief Secretary calling for a detailed report in the matter within four weeks.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Commission has also observed that this is a sad state of affairs. “It is the lack of awareness among the people about HIV/AIDS that breeds the stigma, prejudice, fear and the consequent discrimination of the victims,” it said.According to the media report, dated November 20, the seven-year-old boy upon being tested HIV+, five months ago, was asked to leave the school after the confidential report about his health status was leaked and the parents of several children signed a petition demanding his ouster. Reportedly, both the parents of the child are also HIV positive.

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