India may appoint ombudsperson to curb AIDS discrimination

February 20th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by admin  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) India may soon have a health ombudsperson in all its districts to curb the growing discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients. A bill on the issue has been prepared and the law ministry is debating the draft. It has already been accepted by the health ministry.

“We want the bill to be tabled in parliament in the upcoming budget session. Health ombudsman is a good concept to deliver healthcare and social prestige without giving rise to stigma,” said Naresh Yadav of the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“Discrimination against AIDS patients is growing across India and a HIV/AIDS bill is under discussion at the law ministry. The bill has the provision for the innovative concept of a health ombudsman,” added Anand Grover, director of the Lawyers Collective (HIV/AIDS Unit).

Grover and his unit drafted the bill with assistance from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and a host of other experts from across the country.

“As per the bill, an ombudsman will be appointed in every district of the country and will have the power to listen to cases related to discrimination and ask for an audit,” Grover, a leading Supreme Court lawyer, told IANS.

“This will help people get justice without going to a court and it would be a podium for speedy disposal of cases of such nature,” he added.

However, people will also be free to approach a court directly without approaching the ombudsperson, who will start investigations either after receiving a written complaint from the aggrieved person or following a direction from a court.

“NACO has informed us that the ministry has debated the bill to some extent and has found some doubts about certain provisions. NACO is answering the queries. We are ready to sit with law ministry officials and sort out any doubt about the bill,” Grover said.

India is home to 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients, including nearly 80,000 children below the age of 14.

According to the bill, an ombudsperson may be any person who has working experience or extensive knowledge of public health or healthcare delivery systems. The person must be independent and sensitive to issues addressed in the bill.

“He or she may be from IAS, a healthcare provider or a person working in an NGO,” the bill states.

“They (the ombudspersons) will also help healthcare providers get gloves, masks and other universal precautions to ensure that there is no impediment in treatment. Further they will act as a watchdog in cases of quackery.

“When it comes to violations, the health ombudsperson may pass orders in cases of emergency including directing admissions, operations, or treatment and the provision of universal precautions,” the bill adds.

The ombudsperson can also “pass orders directing the person who has committed the violations to undergo a fixed period of counselling related to the violation committed and fixed a period of social service”.

In a lighter tone, the bill underlines that health ombudsperson will “act as a pressure valve for the legal system by providing quick and alternative remedies rather than encouraging litigation”.

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