Don’t Deny Treatment to HIV Patients, India’s Apex Court Tells Medical Community

by Gopalan on Oct 2 2008 10:54 AM

The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday firmly told the medical community not to deny treatment to People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA).

It was approving the federal government’s directive on to doctors in government and private hospitals on treating HIV patients.

All States should implement the Centre’s instructions forthwith, said a Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Ashok Bhan, who has since retired, and Justice P. Sathasivam.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam informed the court of the instructions issued on August 26. The Bench was hearing petitions filed by Sahara House and other nonprofits.

The Centre’s fiat said: “All doctors, nurses and hospital staff, whether in the public or private sector, shall treat PHLA in a professional manner, treating them always with dignity and care. No doctor or nurse shall refuse to treat PLHA on account of their positive status. In treating PLA, there shall be no discrimination of stigma whatsoever.”

It said: “Doctors in the private sector, in particular, are directed to immediately familiarise themselves with the National AIDS Control Organisation’s (NACO) comprehensive protocols and policies with regard to care and treatment. NACO-approved Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) regimen has proven to be cost-effective, safe and PLHA have shown good response to this regimen.”

Cases of denial of services to positive patients should be viewed seriously and action initiated. “All States must ensure that all A and B category districts have at least one fully functional ART centre. NACO and all State governments are directed to immediately create a mechanism for redress of grievances of ART centres.”

The government said: “Strict action must be taken on all irrational prescriptions of ART. All advertisements offering potential cure for HIV must be banned and such organisations should be dealt with strictly, as there is no proven cure available for HIV/AIDS so far.”

Even as the Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam was explaining the steps taken by the Centre to deal with the problem, Justice Bhan said: “In rural India, there is no doctor available. Even in a 50-bed hospital not a single doctor is present. It is only on paper.”

When Subramaniam said primary health centres were working well in rural areas in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the judge said: “Go to any government hospital in Delhi. Go to Bihar and U.P. and check the position.” All States, the Medical Council of India, the Dental Council and the Nursing Council were asked to file compliance reports in six months.