A Health Bill pending for over a decade — that aims to deal with emergency health situations and control, and management of diseases likely to cause major epidemics — may now see light of the day.

Now christened as ‘The Public Health (Prevention, Control, and Management of Epidemics, Bio-terrorism and Disasters) Bill 2017’, the draft has undergone ‘minor changes over the years’ according to sources, and will soon be submitted to the law ministry for approval.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) have jointly prepared the Bill.

“Though the Health bill has taken time, we have ensured that it’s undergone improvements. It has been through phases, and now finally the Union Health Ministry has released it for opinion from all sectors.

The older versions of the Health Bill didn’t clearly spell out the execution powers granted to the States and the local authorities,” said Dr S Venkatesh, Director NCDC. “Moreover, outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola have also been included,” he added.

Important diseases notified under the Bill are bird flu (avian influenza), dengue, chikungunya, malaria, chickenpox, cholera, extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB)/ multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB), influenza, Japanese encephalitis, kala-azar, viral hepatitis, smallpox, and viral hemorrhagic fevers. “This Bill is to provide for the prevention, control, and management of epidemics, public health consequences of disasters, acts of bioterrorism or threats,” said Ajaya Kumar KP, Under Secretary, Public Health Division, Union Health Ministry.

“We have also proposed to repeal the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 because it required major overhauling in the wake of emergence of many new communicable and non-communicable diseases, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. We have asked for comments on the draft Bill. We may revise it accordingly and send it to the law ministry for approval,” he said.

As per the proposed Bill — if any State Government or administration of a Union Territory or any district or local authority is of the opinion that a public health emergency has arisen or is likely to arise, it may, by order prohibit any such activity, which is or is likely to be inimical to public health in any area under its jurisdiction.

The authorities may quarantine or restrict the movement of any person or object suspected to be exposed to any such disease.

The authorities will have the power to isolate any person infected or suffering from any such disease, conduct medical examination including laboratory examination of, and provide treatment, vaccination to any person or class of persons exposed to or suffering from or suspected to be suffering from any such disease.

The authorities can also ban or regulate the purchase, transport, distribution, sale, supply, storage, as appropriate, of any drug or of any other material which contains hazardous or toxic substance.

Authorities may order detention of any person travelling or intending to travel or carrying or intending to carry any animal or plant or bio-hazardous material by any mode of transport as may be considered necessary. They can also order closure of markets if required.

Any wilful or intentional contravention of any provisions of the Act or any rule or order made or issued there under will be a cognisable offence punishable with a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh and imprisonment up to two years.

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