26 April 2012: A clause in the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill 2012 that HIV testing cannot be a precondition for employment has raised some practical roadblocks in the recruitment process of the paramilitary forces and police, and become a bone of contention between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the department of AIDS control.

The MHA holds that it is not possible to recruit HIV-positive people in the paramilitary forces because of the high physical requirement standards and also because community living in such forces could spread the infection through “cuts and bruises” — ironically, a notion the government’s own AIDS awareness programmes try hard to dispel.

The long-pending Bill, which seeks to stop discrimination against people suffering from HIV/AIDS by making it a penal offence, is going to be taken up by the Cabinet soon. It provides for imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh or both for HIV-related discriminatory propaganda.

There are two major points of disagreement between MHA and the AIDS control department.

MHA has said that the confidentiality clause on HIV status cannot be honoured for men in the forces or personnel living a community life often in enclosed quarters with common barbers and paramedics because not making HIV status of a person known would make others sharing the place with him/her susceptible. They have also demanded that the clause banning mandatory testing for employment should not apply to the forces and police.

It has also raised concerns about the risk of infection to all those around an HIV-positive person and in case of injuries which are a common occurrence because of the nature of the job. It also raised concerns on paramedical and medical staff tending to the person, particularly in a remote area where it is not possible to undertake HIV testing.

The AIDS control department has tried to dispel MHA doubts with laborious explanations about how the spread of the disease through common cuts and bruises is “minimal” and countries like Canada, Belgium and Ukraine — and also the United Nations — have rejected discriminatory practices in their armed forces and instead focussed on HIV prevention information among the forces.

MHA also holds that the clause that no person can be denied job on the basis of their HIV status is not acceptable because in the paramilitary forces and police, there is a very high physical standard set and even a squint or a flat foot could render a person ineligible. How would a person suffering from HIV/AIDS, who is already immuno deficient, then undergo such rigorous training and duties in difficult positions.

The department of AIDS control counters this, saying medical evidence shows persons living with HIV can remain physically fit for up to 15-20 years while on anti- retroviral therapy during which they are good enough for any work.

The final call on the debate will have to be taken by the Cabinet when it takes the Bill up for consideration.

Source: The Indian Express

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