Indian state to tackle workplace HIV discrimination

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India's wealthiest state, Maharashtra is about to become the first state to introduce a policy which aims to attack the discrimination suffered by those infected with HIV in the workplace.

According to Maharashtra's health secretary, Vijay Satbir Singh, the policy will cover recruitment, transfers and promotions, and will in the first instance be applied to all state government offices.

The private-sector will be requested to adopt the policy after a trial period of a few months.

Authorities will be obliged to keep confidential the HIV-positive status of an employee.

In the last year India, with an estimated 5.7 million living with HIV, has according to the United Nations, now overtaken South Africa as the country with the highest number of people living with HIV.

Maharashtra is thought to have as many as 650,000 HIV-infected people living with HIV and the policy is likely to be launched on December 1st to coincide with World AIDS Day.

India reported its first case of the deadly virus 20 years ago, but has not as yet enacted any laws preventing discrimination against patients.

Many sufferers in India are subjected to extreme stigmatisation both at home and in the workplace.

Although the new policy is targeted at government and state agencies it is in the private sector that much of the hostile treatment of HIV-positive people reportedly occurs.

In more encouraging news a new paediatric HIV treatment policy is now in place, and for the first time some 2,000 Indian children below 15 years will have access to life saving paediatric drugs to treat HIV.

Up until now the only treatment available for children infected with HIV/AIDS was a watered down version of the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) for adults which often led to under or over-dosage through human error causing resistance to the drug.

The National AIDS Control Programme aims to identify 10,000 HIV positive children with a CD-4 count less than 15% by November 29 to coincide with former U.S. president Bill Clinton's visit to India for three day visit to India to meet HIV infected children.

The CD-4 count gives doctors an indication of how strong the immune system is and the stage of the HIV infection.

The children come from the four worst affected states - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Clinton's HIV/AIDS Initiative Foundation is supplying the paediatric HIV drug formulations to India, and the selected children will then be put on Anti Retroviral Therapy while the rest will receive counselling and monitoring.

Clinton also plans to talk to the Indian drug industry about manufacturing second line Anti Retroviral Therapy drugs at cheaper rates.

The CD-4 count test is free for children, but adults, however, have to pay Rs 250 for the test.

India is also purchasing 19 Qualitative Polymerase Chain Reaction machines (PCR), which is the only diagnostic tool in the world that accurately detects the presence of HIV in children aged below 13.

The National Aids Control Programme estimates that 33,000 new-born babies each year have HIV from their infected mothers and over 50% die within two years of birth while 80% die within five years.

According to UNAIDS, 120,000 children in the country were living with the virus in 2004.

The National AIDS Control Programme estimates that around 60,000 new infections occurred last year and according to rough estimates, around 250,000 children were HIV positive.

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