The International Centre Goa, Dona Paula in association with Positive People and The Lawyers Collective organised a lecture on ‘Demystifying HIV & AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill 2017’ by senior advocate, in the Supreme Court of India and the director of the Lawyer’s Collective (India), Anand Grover. Founder member of Positive People and friend of Dominic D’Souza, Isabel Santa Rita Vas addressed the gathering by speaking about her association with Dominic. “A few days after Dominic registered Positive People in 1992 he passed away. Positive People’s struggle is part of history of Goa and the fight against discrimination. The stigma and discrimination against a person living with HIV has changed over the years. The situation was not the same when Dominic was detected of being HIV positive around two and half decades ago. ‘Positive People’ has helped in taking Dominic’s vision forward,” said Isabel.
President of Positive People, Cynthia Pinto de Andrade elaborating on the works undertaken by the NGO said: “Positive People was started by Dominic D’Souza in 1992 so that the positive people did not have to go through the struggle that Dominic went through. The organisation has come a long way since its inception. We started with awareness programmes and now we have introduced care and support programmes to help HIV positive families by providing them the right diet and nutrition.” Positive People also helps orphans and adolescents by providing them with medical or job support. The organisation also works with injecting drug users (with an office in Calangute) and female sex workers (with an office in South Goa).
Grover started by talking about how he met Dominic in 1992 and how the promise made to Dominic motivated him to work for the people living with HIV (PLHIV). “The journey which started with Dominic in 1988 has culminated in the HIV Act, 2017, 25 long years after his death. After Dominic’s death the Lawyers Collective took upon itself to work on HIV because of the promise he extracted from me at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai on 23 May 1992,” said Grover.
The fight took a circuitous route from Lucy D’Souza (Domnic’s mother) to the victory in the case titled ‘MX v ZY’, to the defeat in another case titled ‘Mr X v Hospital Z I and II’. “The work spawned more work on the LGBT rights leading us to challenge 377 IPC, with the great success in the Naz Foundation case but reversed in Koushal, but which is awaiting final judgment the curative in Naz Foundation. The work also spawned the litigation in sex work areas and drug use, successfully challenging the death penalty in the Indian Harm Reduction Network case,” said Grover.
Speaking about the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act of 2017 Grover said: “The Act is among one of the first few legislations to address discrimination in the private sector. Protection against discrimination as set out in Section 3 is available to “Protected persons” [HIV positive or living with HIV positive person in Section 2(s)] Discrimination means acts or omission which in/directly expressly or by effect immediately or over time.”
Grover spoke about informed consent as important while handling cases related to HIV. “An HIV test may be performed only with an individual’s/their representative’s informed consent. Informed consent shall necessarily include pre and post-test counselling,” said Grover. He further cited situations where informed consent is not required. “This includes by way of, court order, for medical donation, epidemiological reasons and screening in blood banks,” he said.
Confidentiality is crucial to HIV cases and disclosing one’s HIV status requires consent. “No individual will be compelled to reveal their HIV status unless there is a court order to the contrary. No person shall breach the confidentiality of an HIV+ individual and disclose their status without their informed consent of such person,” said Grover. There are several situations where informed consent can be done away with. These include disclosures between healthcare providers for the purpose of testing, treatment or counselling of the individual in question to the extent necessary for said individual’s treatment by order of the court and in legal proceedings for the purpose of statistics and data collection for monitoring/evaluation/supervision by Central/State AIDS Control Society.
He also spoke about the treatment aspect where everyone has the right to HIV prevention, counselling, treatment services. The bill also outlines penalties to ones who break the rule. “For propagating hatred against persons protected under the Act imprisonment between 3 months to 4 years and/or a fine up to one lakh rupees will be charged.”