New health bill to replace the Epidemic Diseases Act: an overview

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The Public Health Bill 2017 is to address the legal gap in planning, monitoring, communicating, coordinating and protecting people during a public health emergency.

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THE The Public Health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bioterrorism and Disasters) Bill 2017 has recently received attention since its implementation could be initiated soon. Various provisions of the current bill are being finalized by officials of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and it is likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament.

Proposed Public Health Bill, if passed, will replace colonial-era law Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 [EDA], set up by the British administration to fight against the bubonic plague. Since then, no changes to the law have been made and no accompanying rules or regulations have been formulated, which has rendered it ineffective when it comes to combating or mitigating the spread of diseases. like COVID-19.

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Limitations of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897

The EDA is the only Indian law that has been used in the past as a framework to contain the spread of many diseases including cholera and malaria. The act empowers Union and state governments to implement extraordinary measures and prescribes regulations to govern citizens to contain and prevent the spread of disease.

Contemporary, holistic public health legislation would explicitly explain both the provocation and the caution that allow the state to restrict or restrict citizens’ rights to liberty, privacy, property, and movement.

The ACN lacks authority and effectiveness for various reasons. The law does not define an epidemic. No provision of the law specifies the rules, procedures or prescribes a test to arrive at a benchmark that establishes that a particular disease should be prescribed as an epidemic in the country.

Additionally, the EDA makes no provision for the sequestration and sequencing of drugs, or vaccinations, quarantine measures, or other precautionary measures that must be taken. There is no underlying demarcation of essential human rights standards that must be maintained when emergency measures are implemented during an outbreak.

The Need for a Central Public Health Law

In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family publicize the bill for comments and feedback from interested parties and stakeholders. The bill proposes to empower state and local governments to appropriately respond to public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks and bioterrorism in a variety of situations.

Jointly prepared by the National Center for Disease Control and the General Directorate of Health Services, the bill empowered states and local governments to take appropriate measures, including quarantining people, decontaminating spaces, isolating infectious agents, destroying animals or birds and carrying out surprise inspections. in the event of a public health emergency (Article 3).

The bill primarily emphasizes the powers of union and state governments during an epidemic, but it does not specify the government’s responsibilities in epidemic prevention and control, nor does it expressly set out the rights citizens in the event of a major epidemic.

Contemporary, holistic public health legislation would explicitly explain both the provocation and the caution that allow the state to restrict or restrict citizens’ rights to liberty, privacy, property, and movement. Therefore, decision-making by authorities would become predictable and transparent.

In India, there are a variety of laws that can be used in a public health emergency. the Indian Ports Actthe Livestock Import Actthe Aircraft rulesand the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, for example, all have provisions that can be used in a situation like COVID-19. A comprehensive central law on public health should aim to harmonize these provisions within a single legal framework.

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Four-tier health administration structure

The bill envisions a four-tier health administration system, with national, state, district and local public health authorities, with clearly delineated and defined powers and responsibilities to deal with public health emergencies. .

Concerns have been raised about the sweeping powers the bill gives state, district and local authorities.

While the Union Health Ministry would lead the national public health authority, it would be chaired by state health ministers. The next level would be led by district collectors, while local units would be led by block doctors or medical superintendents. These authorities will be empowered to take preventive measures against non-communicable diseases and emerging infectious diseases.

State and local authority powers and their implications

Concerns have been raised about the sweeping powers the bill gives state, district and local authorities. The proposed bill sets out many procedures primarily undertaken by the Center and states to control the spread of COVID-19, and stipulates that authorities will have the power to re-invoke such measures should the need arise. .

In addition, the bill empowers the government of a state or union territory to perform any medical examination, including laboratory examination, and to provide vaccination or treatment for such disease to a person exposed to, suffering from or suspected of suffering from such a disease. . The provision does not address the importance of the data subject’s consent to perform such medical or laboratory examination, and to provide vaccination or treatment.

The terms “outbreak”, “isolation”, “quarantine” and “social distancing” are all defined in the bill, along with clear definitions for “public health emergency of international concern”, “land crossing”, “disinfection “rat extermination” and “decontamination” were provided (section 2).

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The shortcomings of the bill

Equal access to health services must be at the heart of any national pandemic law. The EDA and the proposed bill fall short on this front. The responsibility of healthcare professionals and other workers, as well as their rights and the safety standards to which they are entitled, must be defined, as must the responsibilities of civil society during such a crisis.

The bill, in its current state, requires extensive consultation and discussion with health experts and key stakeholders. Wider consultation is needed to address the implications of the bill once it is implemented. Additionally, an important step toward resolving the issues with the bill would be to review state public health laws and learn from global public health management systems.

Equal access to health services must be at the heart of any national pandemic law. The current Epidemic Diseases Act and proposed bill fall short on this front.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the Union Government with an opportunity to implement well-structured central legislation that bridges the gap between legislative and policy intent. A new public health law must be at the heart of a functioning public health system. The bill should address the legal gap in planning, monitoring, communicating, coordinating and protecting people during a public health emergency.

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