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The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has yielded to persistent pressure from HIV/AIDS NGOs and announced free testing (CD-4 count that determines the immunity level in an HIV positive person) for all patients.

In October last year NACO had halved the cost of the test, but it still costs Rs 250 each time a person is tested prior to starting Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART). The only exception was persons living below the poverty line and having yellow cards.

According to an intimation received by the State AIDS Control Societies of Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana, henceforth the test will be conducted free of cost for every HIV positive person once every six months. It will be repeated free earlier than six months if the patient has a doctor’s prescription. Though this decision was taken on December 28, it was intimated today.

Confirming that the Chandigarh State AIDS Control Society had received the letter, its Director, Dr Sonia Trikha Khullar, said: “Yes, we have received the letter. It is a very positive development that will help in early diagnosis and treatment, thereby helping reduce mortality”.

The purpose behind unveiling the policy, said public health secretary Vijay Satbir Singh, is to provide a conducive atmosphere to those of the state government’s employees who may be suffering from the disease. As few people disclose their HIV-positive status at the workplace, the government has no idea how many of its employees are affected.

Applicable to 22 lakh state government employees and around three lakh employees in various public sector units, the policy permits an HIV-positive patient to avail of more sick leave if he needs it, promises confidentiality, seeks to involve his family in counselling and therapy, and aims at working out individual workplace intervention programmes according to the need of the department.
Sentinel surveillance (surveys of high-risk group studies and ante-natal cases) shows an HIV prevalence of one per cent in Maharashtra.
“The state government has a strong commitment to the HIV-positive population. Through our own employees, we’re hoping to reach out to many more affected people,’’ Singh said. The young population, between 15 and 49 years, is more vulnerable and therefore the target of HIV prevention programmes.
“Studies show that economic growth is often affected by the disease as was evident in South Africa,” he said. The policy is based on guidelines developed by the International Labour Organisation — ‘ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work’ — and incorporates inputs from the National Aids Control Organisation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It entails no HIV screening, continuation of employment, prevention, care and support, and “reasonable accommodation”. The last clause is a bit revolutionary for a public office — it could include rearrangement of working time, special equipment if necessary, “opportunities for rest breaks, time off for medical appointments, flexible sick leave, part-time work and return-to-work arrangement’’.
Grievance redressal and disciplinary procedures are also built into the policy. It says that women suffer more, and offers up the facilities at the 676 integrated Counselling and Testing Centres in Maharashtra for any employee who wishes to screen himself or get treated.
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