Kerala HC HIV Patient Privacy

Its fundamental imperative to ensure that the patients of HIV are not exposed to unwanted attention, or breach of privacy, at any level: Kerala HC

Introduction: In XXX v. State of Kerala & Ors. (W.P.(C).No. 231 of 2023), it was brought to Kerala HC’s noticed that Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) was redesigned with the singular intent of ensuring that the details of the applicants would not be available to anyone other than the authorized officers. The HC hailed the steps taken as a pioneering initiative for ensuring the confidentiality and privacy of HIV infected persons. This set-up if successfully implemented enables HIV patient to remain in the privacy of their home and upload their application and certificates without seeking the assistance of another.

Facts: Smt. Tinku Biswal, Principal Secretary, Revenue Department, presented suggestions regarding the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) portal. The CMDRF portal initially had a common application method for all individuals, raising concerns about confidentiality and privacy, especially for HIV-infected persons. The portal has been re-designed to include a separate page exclusively for HIV-infected persons, under the control of the District Collector or an authorized officer sworn to secrecy. The development comes in a plea alleging that in order to avail the benefit of a Government Order granting HIV infected persons Rs. 6,000/- every 6 months, the applicants who often below to the lowest income strata of society, would have to take the assistance of platforms such as Akshaya Centre for uploading their applications and medical documents, which leads to breach of their confidentiality and privacy.

Contention of the Petitioner: The petitioner’s counsel, Smt. Sandhya Raju, acknowledged the viability of the suggested alternative, emphasizing the need for privacy in dealing with applications from HIV patients.

Contention of the Respondent: Smt. Tinku Biswal explained the re-design of the CMDRF portal, highlighting the enhanced privacy measures for HIV patients.

Court’s Observation: The court expressed appreciation for the suggested changes, recognizing the importance of protecting the privacy of HIV patients and ensuring that their details are accessible only to authorized officials.

The Courtobserved that “a person could now apply on the portal with their Medical-cum-Life Certificate issued by a competent Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) Centre, and that the District Collector or authorized officer would then verify the same, and send the documents to the concerned ART Centre for authentication.”

“Certainly, this is a welcome step in insuring that apprehension of the patients of HIV – who are already reeling under the rigour of medical and social burden and inhibitions – are allayed”.

The Court also reminded that its fundamental imperative is to ensure that the patients of HIV are not exposed to unwanted attention, or breach of privacy, at any level, taking note of the internationally accepted protocols in this regard.

Court’s Decision: The kerala high court welcomed the proposed mechanism, allowing HIV-positive individuals to apply for assistance while maintaining their privacy. The only concern was the timely implementation of the exclusive portal for HIV patients. The matter was adjourned to be revisited on 11.12.2023, with a request for Smt. Tinku Biswal’s presence for further interaction.

Conclusion: The court commended the official authorities for their steps in designing a system to safeguard confidentiality and privacy for HIV-infected persons, anticipating that its successful implementation would be a pioneering initiative.

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