October 03, 2008

Health ministry offers sops to HIV+

If the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has so far mobilised $700 million to fight the AIDS menace, the health ministry has go

ne beyond its mandate and requested the concerned ministries for making available free transport, BPL cards and extension of the NREGA scheme to the socially stigmatised 2.5 million HIV positive people.

Even before NACO got the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval on Wednesday on its scheme stepping up medical facilities to AIDS patients that included establishing 650 link anti-retroviral therapy (ART) centres, the health ministry has initiated steps on the social and economical fronts to make life easier for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA).

In tune with Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam’s promise to SC, Health Secretary Naresh Dayal has written to his counterparts in the ministries of railways, transport, food and rural development seeking a slew of concessions and extension of central benevolent schemes to PLHAs.

“While the Centre was giving free investigation and treatment to eligible HIV/AIDS cases, as majority of affected persons are from poor socio-economic classes, there is considerable economic burden due to indirect expenditures that they incur due to loss of wages, transport cost and limited physical ability,” said Dayal, explaining the necessity of his communication.

All his letters had an identical line at the end, “It is believed that the SC is inclined to accept these (Subramaniam’s) suggestions”, probably to fortify them from any possible legal objections from the recipient ministries. The health secretary’s letter to his counterpart in the rural development ministry, Rita Sharma, said Subramaniam had committed to “extend the benefits of NREGA scheme to HIV positive persons. I request appropriate orders be issued to state governments”.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) promises enhancement of livelihood security of households in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual labour.

In an identical letter to food secretary T Nanda Kumar, Dayal requested him to help comply with the ASG’s commitment to the court to extend the Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) to HIV positive persons and pass appropriate directions to the state governments, which implement this centrally sponsored scheme. The AAY scheme aims to provide foodgrains at subsidised rates to poor (BPL) families who are unable to manage two square meals a day.

To provide PLHAs free of cost travel from their home to the nearest ART centre for medical help, the health secretary wrote to transport secretary Brahm Dutt and Railway Board chairman K C Jena to take necessary steps.

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