111-year-old Epidemic Act set for burial

September 25th, 2008 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) The 111-year-old Epidemic Act will soon be replaced by a stringent new law that the government claims will be able to effectively fight epidemics and new age diseases like HIV/AIDS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and bio-terrorism by punishing those whose negligence leads to an epidemic.”The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 will be repealed as it is not capable of handling new epidemic threats. Newer diseases like HIV/AIDS and SARS have emerged as major public health challenges,” said a senior health ministry official.

“The threat of bio-terrorism and disaster-related health problems can be addressed in a better way through the new act. The British era act will be replaced by new legislation called the Public Health Act,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IANS.

Divided into three parts, the bill tries to cover all aspects of public health. It has provisions to penalise any authority at the national and local levels if their negligence leads to an epidemic.

The health ministry has already formulated the bill with help from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), Indian Council of Medical Research, representatives of the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) and independent public health experts.

Within the ministry, the bill was amended twice to make it comprehensive.

“We have also consulted the home ministry and the law ministry and incorporated their suggestions.

“Consultations about the new legislation have been on since 1999 and the final draft was prepared a few months back. Most probably the bill will be tabled in the upcoming parliament session,” the official added.

The bill lists 33 epidemic-prone diseases like anthrax, kala azar, plague, chicken pox, chikungunya, yellow fever, whooping cough, food poisoning, diptheria, HIV/AIDS and meningitis.

Similarly, the bill mentions 33 agents including 15 bacteria, two fungi and 16 viruses, as potential bio-terrorism threats.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has consulted the ministry on making provisions to counter bio-terrorism and has mentioned that there must be provision to tackle diseases like anthrax and small pox “in case of its misuse”.

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