Thanks to the passing of India’s new law ensuring equal rights for those living with HIV, it is now estimated that nearly one million people will be able to find relief.
The historic bill was passed in April, making it a criminal offense to discriminate against HIV-positive people. The journey towards its passing was nearly a decade in the making.
As reported by Chemistry World, since 2004 antiretroviral therapy has been free for HIV-positive people. New diagnoses in 2015 were 86,000, which was a 32 percent decline from 2007.
Regardless of the decrease of new cases in that time, there is an estimated 2.1 million people living with HIV in India, according to UNAIDS — and only one million of them are receiving treatment. All of them experienced discrimination to some degree.
Three years ago, HIV stigma drove one couple (a husband and wife) to drink poison after getting kicked out of his parent’s home because they were HIV-positive. They died a few days later. This new bill hopes to encourage people living in at-risk areas in India to get tested and, if tested positive, seek treatment.
“[Incidents of discrimination] have decreased compared to decades ago but they still occur," Huidrom Rosenara, associate director with the Delhi-based India HIV//AIDS Alliance, said to CNN. “(The legislation) is a long awaited and positive move. We are very optimistic about it as it speaks volumes about the political commitment. It will protect the rights of people with HIV and let them lead their lives with dignity and respect.”
The Indian government also added a new policy in line with the World Health Organization, which calls for immediate treatment for HIV-positive people, no matter how low or high their T cell count may be. Before, people were unable to receive ART until their T cells dipped below a certain level.
Nearly 80 percent of ART drugs for the developing world are supplied through India’s pharmaceutical industries. Despite the country’s access to money and medicine, there is still a serious lack of education about HIV and how it’s transmitted. Stigma reigns supreme. And where there is stigma, there is resistance.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, India’s first openly gay Prince of Rajpipla, spoke recently to Agence France Press about volunteers at his HIV foundation being harassed by police and authorities when attempting to educate men who have sex with men and transgender women about safer sex practices.
Gohil is head of Lakshya Trust, which aims to prevent HIV by giving away condoms and providing education to India’s LGBTQ community. But, the prince confessed, his workers are constantly harassed.
“Some of our workers were arrested and taken to the police station where the cops themselves had forced sex with them without condoms," Gohil said. “When we started work among the MSM, we were harassed and threatened by police. We would keep condom packets in public toilets, and even hang them on trees in public parks because we did not want to stop them from having sex in toilets or behind the bushes. We just wanted them to have safe sex… People say homosexuality is a part of Western culture. It is absolutely wrong.”