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New health law proposal that will replace Epidemic Diseases Act: an overview



The Public Health Bill, 2017 is required to deal with the legal deficiencies in monitoring, planning, and coordination. And protection of people in the event of a public health emergency.

THE Public Health (Prevention, Control, and Management of bioterrorism, epidemics, and natural disasters) Bill, 2017 has been receiving attention recently as its implementation could begin soon. Several provisions from the current version of the Bill are currently being reviewed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare officials. They are expected to be introduced during the Monsoon session of Parliament.

If approved, it is proposed that the Public Health Bill will replace the colonial-era law, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 [EDA], which was put into effect under the British administration to combat the spread of bubonic plague. Since then, no modification to the law has been proposed. No associated Rules or Regulaments have been made, making them useless when preventing or reducing the spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

Also, take a look: Are we ready for the next outbreak? Examining India’s fiscal, social and legal readiness

Limitations of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

The EDA is the only law in India that has been utilized in the past to provide a practical framework for preventing the spread of a variety of illnesses, including malaria and cholera. The law allows the union and the state governments to take extraordinary actions and sets out regulations for the people to stop and limit the spread of diseases.

  • A current and comprehensive public health law should clearly define both the cause and the caution that permits the state to limit or limit citizens’ rights to privacy, liberty of property, freedom of movement, and freedom.

The EDA does not have the authority or effectiveness for various reasons. The Act is unable to determine what constitutes an epidemic. No provision in the Act defines the regulations, procedures or suggests any test to establish the benchmark for determining whether the disease is declared an outbreak in the United States.

Furthermore, the EDA does not contain any provisions for sequestering or sequence of medication, vaccinations and quarantine measures, or any other actions of precaution that have to be taken. There is no delineation of the fundamental human rights standards to be adhered to when emergency measures are put in place in an outbreak.

There is a need for national public health law.

In 2017 in 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released the draft Bill open for public comment and feedback from all interested individuals and parties. The draft Bill proposes granting local and state governments the power to appropriately respond to health emergencies affecting the public, such as bioterrorism and epidemics in various circumstances.

Created with the National Centre for Disease Control and the Directorate General of Health Services, The Bill empowers local and state governments to take appropriate actions that include appointing quarantines for people and spaces, decontaminating them, and isolating infectious diseases agents. Killing birds or animals and conducting surprise inspections in the case of a public situation of health (Section 3.).

The Bill highlights mainly the federal and state authorities’ powers in the event of an outbreak. However, it does not define the role of government in controlling and preventing the spread of the disease and does not explicitly the rights of citizens of states when there is a massive outbreak of disease.

A current and comprehensive public health law will clearly define both the cause and the safeguards that allow the state to limit citizens’ rights to liberty and privacy, property, and mobility. Thus, decisions made by the authorities will become more apparent and predictable.

In India, several laws may be applied in a health emergency. Laws like the Indian Ports Act, the Livestock Importation Act, the Aircraft Rules, and the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, for example, all contain provisions that can be utilized in situations such as COVID-19. A comprehensive central health law must focus on harmonizing these provisions into a unified legal structure.

Learn from private sector involvement with COVID-19, the universal health insurance standard

Four-tier structure for health administration

The draft Bill envisions a four-tiered health-administration system, with national, state, district, and local public health authorities, clearly demarcated and defined powers and responsibilities for dealing with public health emergencies.

  • Concerns have been raised about the broad powers that the Bill gives to the district, state and local authorities.

The Union Health Ministry would lead the national authority for public health. The state ministers of health would head it. District Collectors would manage the next tier of management. Meanwhile, the local health units will be supervised by Medical Directors or Block Medical Officers. They will be given the power to initiate preventive measures to combat non-communicable illnesses and emerging infectious diseases.

Authorities of the state as well as the local authority as well their consequences

Concerns have been raised about the broad powers that the Bill confers to the district, state, and local officials. The proposed legislation stipulates several procedures primarily used by state and district authorities and the Centre. It states the need to limit covid-19’s spread and further states that officers will be able to invoke these measures once more if they are required.

Furthermore, the Bill also empowers the authorities of an area of union or state for conducting any medical exam, including a laboratory examination and providing vaccination or treatment for the related disease to any person affected or suspected of suffering from this illness. The Bill does not address the importance of consenting by the individual concerned to conduct the medical or laboratory test and provide vaccinations or treatment.

“Epidemic” isolation and quarantine’ and social distancing’ have been defined by the Bill along with specific definitions of “public health emergency of international significance’ and ‘ground crossing deratting,’ ‘disinfection, and ‘decontamination and decontamination. (Section 2.).

Also, look up: Health surveillance in India. The issue is the privacy and liberty of an individual in the face of a pandemic outbreak.

The Bill’s shortcomings

Equal access to healthcare is a fundamental element of any pandemic law. Both the EDA and the proposed Bill do not meet the requirements on this point. The responsibilities to healthcare workers and workers, their right to rights, and the standards of safety that they have a proper need to be clarified, as should the duties of civil society during crises.

The Bill calls for a comprehensive consultation and discussion among health experts and key stakeholders in its current condition. More extensive consultation is needed to consider Bill’s consequences when it becomes effective. Another important way to address the concerns with the Bill could be to engage with the public health laws of states and learn from the global system of public health and management.

  • Equal access to healthcare is a fundamental element of any national pandemic legislation. The current Epidemic Diseases Act and the proposed Bill are not up to scratch.

This COVID-19 disease has presented the federal government with the opportunity to pass a well-structured central law that bridges the legislative and political intentions. An updated Public Health law needs to constitute the basis of a functioning Public Health System. The Bill will deal with the legal deficiencies in the planning, surveillance, and coordination. And protection of people in the event of a public health emergency.

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