Shutdown of AIDS Control Association in India (13th August 2014)
The Centre has merged the Department of AIDS Control with the health ministry, expanding the Narendra Modi-led government's mantra of "minimum government, maximum governance" to HIV prevention as it felt there was no need for a separate division since new cases of people infected with the disease had fallen by half over the past decade or so. The government got the President's nod to merge the DAC with the health ministry on August 6, officials said.
DAC secretary VK Subburaj, a 1980 batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, has been transferred to the National Scheduled Castes Commission. The merger, which has riled activists, comes weeks after Health Minister Harsh Vardhan triggered a controversy when he suggested that the national AIDS prevention programme should focus on promoting fidelity in marriage rather than use of condoms.
According to official statistics, the number of new HIV cases detected dropped to 2,39,763 in 2013-14 from about 4,40,000 in 2001. The merger was first proposed in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17). The Planning Commission suggested that the DAC should be integrated with the National Health Mission (NHM), which is responsible for delivering universal healthcare in both urban and rural areas. The health ministry opposed the proposal at the time, arguing that AIDS control could not be carried out by auxiliary nurse midwives working under the NHM. The government has not integrated the AIDS control programme with the NHM, though.
"The department has just been merged and we need some time to decide whether this (programme) will be carried out through the NHM. At present, the AIDS control programme will run as a separate vertical under one of the three additional secretaries in the ministry," said a senior ministry official, who did not wish to be identified. The DAC was established over two decades ago when there was a glut of funds from international organisations to control the AIDS epidemic.
Global funding has gradually dried up and the number of new cases has also decreased by half in the last decade, prompting suggestions that the DAC be merged with the ministry. The department was allocated more than Rs 1,700 crore in the budget for 2014-15. It's not immediately clear whether the merger will lead to reallocation of AIDS funds to other schemes, officials said.Health secretary Lov Verma said the government will not let its guard down as far as HIV prevention is concerned. "The AIDS programme will run as any other independent programme currently with the ministry," he told ET.
Health activists are, however, not happy with the merger and want the government to roll back the decision, arguing that it could dilute the community based response developed under the DAC. "India has been able to make progress on HIV because of the exclusive programme excellently managed by the DAC. If the DAC is dismantled at this juncture, the decision will boomerang and HIV can come back severely," said Manoj Pardeshi of the National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India.
Lawyer Anand Grover concurred, saying, "There is need for the DAC to address issues of drug stock-out and stigma against the community. It should certainly not be dismantled."