Thursday, February 22, 2007

Andhra Government Screens HIV in the Police Force

AIDS is a disease that is yet incurable. From its beginning in around 1983, it has spread all over the world and afflicts millions of people over the world. It spreads through fluids (blood transfer, infected needle or unsafe sexual contact) as well as to an embryo from the mother. AIDS initially spread through high risk groups in India (sex workers, workers who are away from home for long periods, drug addicts) and is now believed to afflict millions.

India in the past has not dealt well with AIDS in the past, in terms of having a strategy to decrease the spread of AIDS in the country. It used to be that some common measures to combat the spread of AIDS (through unsafe sex) such as promoting condom use used to be seen as sort of threatening the moral culture of society. To spread this message would need far greater promotion through advertising, and governments of the day were seen as squeamish in pushing such advertising.

We are no longer in such a situation. Governments (central, state) realize the importance of creating awareness in preventing the spread of AIDS, and one can see many more campaigns now. In addition, people having AIDS no longer live under a short death sentence. With the availability of the cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, the progress of AIDS is slowed to a significant degree, such that infected people can lead an almost normal life.

There is significant medical progress happening in the area of AIDS treatment, and at some point, we will see a major breakthrough in terms of curing AIDS. However, to paint this rosy picture slightly dark, in our society, AIDS patients are seen as people to be avoided. A couple of months back, either India Today or Outlook carried a lead story about how AIDS patients are seen as outcasts, and especially in rural areas, are shunned. To change these attitudes, there needs to be public campaigns to promote the concept that AIDS patients are normal members of society who can contribute, as long as the necessary precautions are taken.

In such a scenario, we have the Andhra Pradesh government changing the Police Manual so that HIV positive patients are now excluded from serving in the police force. This policy was set aside by the High Court, and when the matter reached the Supreme Court, it asked the central government for an opinion. The Central Government opinion is good advice, and I quote a small extract: "HIV status of a person should be kept confidential and should not in any way affect the rights of a person to employment, his or her position at the workplace, marital relationship and other fundamental rights,"
scriminatory and counterproductive. Read the whole story at this link.

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that a mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS as a precondition for employment will be discriminatory and counterproductive. The apex court is hearing a petition moved by the state of Andhra Pradesh which has said that as per its revised Police Manual rule, HIV positive candidates are not eligible for appointment.

The latter, in its affidavit, said there should be no discrimination against an HIV positive person in matters of employment, and that they should be put on a par with other members of the society. In the armed and police forces, however, HIV testing may be carried out voluntarily with the provision of pre and post-test counselling, the results of which should be kept confidential.

And of course, the interesting part is that both the Andhra Pradesh government and the Central government are run by the Congress-I, and hence there obviously is no common stand of the party on this. In fact, I looked around to see whether this news is being reported elsewhere, but this news came and went, no discussions, no protests at the policy being followed by the state government.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:27 AM