India’s sprawling railway network will from next week allow HIV-infected people to travel half-price, the Economic Times reports. Since it’s India, there’s red tape to go with the red ribbons — the discount is only for second class travel to and from approved HIV treatment centres and people “have to produce (a) certificate in prescribed form issued by officer-in-charge of the concerned ART centre where the patient is to be treated or has been treated.” But still.
The HIV concession brings Indian Railways’ list of socially-motivated discounts to 50. Some of my favourites are ” Either of parents accompanying the Child Recipients of National Bravery Award – travelling for any purpose” (50% off) and “Persons taking part in Mountaineering Expeditions organised by IMF” (75% off). Since I’ve been exposed to all those Big Pharma ads in which good-looking muscle-bound guys pop their antiretrovirals before climbing a glacier and abseiling down it, I’m wondering: Do HIV-positive mountaineers get a double-discount?
Seriously, I think this is good news for three reasons. Firstly, it may actually make it easier for people to get their treatment. Secondly, it is an indication that the appalling miasma of stigma that hangs over HIV in India may be thinning. And thirdly, it is an example of a “multi-sectoral response” that is actually useful. The fashion for trying to make HIV everyone’s business is often counterproductive. In most of the world we really don’t need oil companies holding concerts on World AIDS Day, or HIV task forces in the Ministry of Fisheries. We do need people who need sterile needles, condoms and treatment for sexually transmitted infections to be able to get them, cheaply and easily. Ditto people who need antiretorvirals. If Indian Railways initiative helps achieve that, bravo.