When the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) launched a pilot project in Delhi linking health, financial, and social benefits for HIV patients with the Aadhaar card, representatives of people living with HIV/AIDs welcomed the decision. The same move is, however, now driving patients in Madhya Pradesh away from treatment due to apprehensions of identity disclosure and the resulting social stigma.
According to a Hindustan Times report, HIV-AIDS patients and those undergoing tests to detect the disease have started avoiding ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) centres and district hospitals after the Madhya Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (MPSACS) made possession of Aadhaar cards compulsory for treatment in February this year. In line with the central government’s policy and against Supreme Court orders, the 12 digit identity number is now mandatory to get free medicines and treatment for HIV in Madhya Pradesh. Health department sources told the paper that this has led to patients avoiding treatment.
“During evaluation, we find employees at the centres disclose identities of patients without any hesitation. When they can easily disclose it to me, how can I expect they would not pass on the information to others? Even, patients lodged complaints of facing social stigma because of disclosure of their identities. The linking of Aadhaar with the health scheme will only add to their woes,” an evaluator at MPSACS told the paper on the condition of anonymity. Interestingly, the HIV bill passed in the Rajya Sabha last week promises confidentiality with regard to HIV/AIDS treatment.
“How can I be assured that my identity would not be disclosed? I would rather go to a private hospital. It’s daunting for a person like me who has come here for the first time just to rule out my doubts related to the infection,” a student who had come for a test at the Bhopal district hospital told Hindustan Times.
Patients had earlier welcomed the pilot project because the move eliminated the need for periodic submission of records for availing benefits. When NACO wrote to ART centres asking them to link patients with Aadhar cards to avoid duplication, ART centres had also welcomed the move as it was assumed that it would help them keep track of patients.
Health activists in MP, however, told Hindustan Times that the state’s AIDS control society did not foresee the negative outcomes arising out of the decision before issuing the directive. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case to rule whether Aadhaar can be made mandatory for availing government benefits. On March 28, it again ordered that obtaining the 12-digit number should be a voluntary exercise for availing subsidies.