A legal hand to end discrimination against PLHIV

March 1, 2024

The District Legal Aid Clinic at Jaipur is helping PLHIV secure their rights

“The doctor in my village didn’t even check my wife’s pulse when she was serious,” recounts Ishaan*, his distress palpable. Ishaan and his wife Rita* are among the 2.4 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) in India. Stigma and discrimination remain a significant challenge for them, impacting their physical and mental well-being. The community faces stigma starting from the self, at the social level, within healthcare facilities, and legal and policy-level barriers.

“I had to take her all the way to Jaipur, where she underwent surgery. Even there, I noticed a change in attitude when the nursing staff learned that she was living with HIV,” Ishaan adds. 

India is among the first few countries to enact legislation protecting PLHIV against discrimination and safeguarding their rights. The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act 2017 introduced robust measures to eradicate stigma and discrimination across various sectors, including healthcare, education, and the workplace, and safeguard the rights of PLHIV and key populations.

The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, has adopted the "Test and Treat Policy," providing free ART in public health facilities for PLHIV.

Despite these measures, discrimination persists.

“There have been numerous instances where affected people have taken extreme steps like suicide or isolated themselves because of constant discrimination from society and mental health disorders that arise out of such treatment,” says Ms. Ashka Rao, Secretary, Jaipur District Legal Services Authority (DALSA).

Ashka Rao, Secretary, Jaipur District Legal Services Authority

To enable PLHIV and key populations to access services, raise awareness, and provide linkages for legal aid, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India, in partnership with Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society (RSACS), Jaipur District Legal Services Authority (DALSA), and the Global Alliance for Human Rights (GAHR) – a community-based organization working with PLHIV and key populations – have initiated a dedicated legal aid clinic (D-LAC) in Jaipur. 

D-LAC is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the state to provide legal redress in case of violations and discrimination, raising awareness about rights under the HIV Act and liaising with the legal community, forums like the Lok Adalat (an alternative dispute redressal mechanism where disputes/cases pending in a court of law are settled amicably), and district and block levels departments. It also sensitizes stakeholders like paralegal volunteers about their responsibilities towards these vulnerable groups under the Act.

"While the HIV Act is in place, we still need to create awareness about how it safeguards the rights of PLHIV against discrimination. D-LAC is helping them to become aware of their rights and safeguard them. And wherever their rights are being violated, be it hospitals, schools, government offices, or even their homes, D-LAC provides support through the District Legal Services Authority, free of cost,” shares Brijesh Dubey, Founder, GAHR.

Improving access to HIV services can help create an environment that supports HIV testing, treatment, prevention, and care services and contributes to good public health outcomes.

"This is a one-of-its-kind pilot to help achieve our goal of ending discrimination against PLHIV by 2030. We plan to expand this initiative across all districts of Rajasthan,” says Dr. Sushil Kumar, Project Director of Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society, Government of Rajasthan. 

Dr. Sushil Kumar Parmar, Project Director of Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society

Even among the PLHIV, the LGBTQI+ community faces more challenges owing to their identity hampering their access to ART further. 

“Due to the discrimination, we often face barriers in accessing services, and we do not know where to go. If an office can provide access to councillors, officers, and lawyers to receive legal aid support, that would benefit the community,” says Noor Shikawat, a Jaipur-based Transgender community leader. 

Research globally indicates that improving the quality of life significantly reduces vulnerability to HIV infection and extends the lifespan of PLHIV. D-LAC actively contributes to this objective by offering legal assistance to restore the rights of PLHIV.

As Ishaan aptly puts it, “Legal assistance for people like us means that we don’t have to run from pillar to post to secure our basic rights that others take for granted.”

As a founding co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations team on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), UNDP is committed to ensuring the rights and well-being of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Through partnerships with governments and communities, UNDP strives to achieve 10-10-10 global targets for combating HIV/AIDS.

*Names in the story have been changed to protect confidentiality.