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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 253-255  

Epidemic diseases act 1897 to public health bill 2017: Addressing the epidemic challenges


1 Assistant Professor, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Uttarakhand, India
2 MPH Student, School of Public Health, Department of Community and Family Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
3 Associate Professor, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Uttarakhand, India
4 Professor and Head, Department of Community and Family Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Uttarakhand, India

Date of Submission29-Apr-2020
Date of Decision05-May-2020
Date of Acceptance12-May-2020
Date of Web Publication02-Jun-2020
Date of Print Publicaton02-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Aprajita Mehta
School of Public Health, Department of Community and Family Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijph.IJPH_503_20

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How to cite this article:
Bahurupi Y, Mehta A, Singh M, Aggarwal P, Kishore S. Epidemic diseases act 1897 to public health bill 2017: Addressing the epidemic challenges. Indian J Public Health 2020;64, Suppl S2:253-5

How to cite this URL:
Bahurupi Y, Mehta A, Singh M, Aggarwal P, Kishore S. Epidemic diseases act 1897 to public health bill 2017: Addressing the epidemic challenges. Indian J Public Health [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 30];64, Suppl S2:253-5. Available from: https://www.ijph.in/text.asp?2020/64/6/253/285621



Dear Editor,

In India, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kerala on January 30, 2020. The Government of India advised states to invoke the Epidemic Disease Act 1897 to contain the COVID-19 disease, which was promulgated during British Raj.[1] This act was passed on February 4, 1897, in response to the bubonic plague.[2]

In2017, the Public Health Bill was prepared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and will supersede the Epidemic Diseases Act after being passed from the parliament.[3]

The key differences between the two acts are summarized in [Table 1].
Table 1: Difference between The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and Public Health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics, Bio-terrorism and Disasters) Bill, 2017

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The two acts differ in the context of the scope, inclusion of diseases which can be a threat to public health, penalties, division of powers among different administrative authorities, and making appeal regarding any order passed under the acts. The Epidemic Disease Act only focused on checking and disinfecting railways and ports considering them the only entry points not mentioning the road crossings and air travel, which are considered in the Public Health Bill.[4] In case of any dispute, the epidemic disease act does not specify powers of which administrative authority will supersede, that are clearly mentioned in the Public Health Bill with provisions to amend, that are clearly mentioned in the Public Health Bill with provisions to amend any section. To prevent any confusion, proper definitions of disinfection, derating, isolation, quarantine, public health emergency of national concern, etc., are clearly mentioned in the Public Health Bill but not in the Epidemic Diseases Act. “Public health service” is a concept laid down in the Public Health Bill which includes health promotion, immunization, prevention, treatment of disease services, environmental sanitation and also include looking after of facilities for such services which are relevant in cases of pandemic like COVID-19, but all these are missing in the Epidemic Diseases Act.

Challenges in the implementation of the Public Health Bill in view of the current experience can be summarized as below:

  • Without a dedicated public health cadre, it would be difficult to implement the proposed Public Health Bill effectively
  • With the easy access to the Internet, many false claims and false warnings and false warnings can spread, causing fear and panic among the people. Addition of penalties to prevent such activities should be considered. Provision of payment of compensation to the people affected by the government orders during an epidemic may be considered
  • All the powers of the government at each level are clearly mentioned, but possible violations of rights during public health emergency have not been taken into account and its redressal mechanisms are not clearly defined. Appeal can be made under this act, but still, the scope to make an appeal is very limited in the context of Sections 9 and 10
  • Maintaining a balance between the rights provided by the constitution and the powers of the government is essential for a public health law.


Managing the pandemic of COVID-19 with a colonial act containing more than a century-old provision is a challenging task. The four sections have a limited scope in today's times. The need of the hour is to have an act which takes into account all the possible threats to public health and integrates all the relevant health-related laws and surveillance programs to strengthen the response to any public health emergency. The draft of the Public Health Bill 2017 is a welcome effort toward creating such a consolidated law. While it provides proper description of the powers of the central government, state government, and local authorities, it does not adequately describe the appeal procedures for aggrieved people. The other issues like rumors generated by the social media or compensation to the people affected by any government orders during a public health emergency should be considered in it. Comprehensive legislation is a pressing priority and will supplement the other measures taken in a public health emergency.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
   References Top

1.
COVID-19: Government Calls for Invoking Provisions of Epidemic Act; GOM Reviews Preparations. The Economic Times. Available from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-govt-calls-for-invoking-provisions-of-epidemic-act-gom -reviews-preparations/articleshow/74582440.cms. [Last accessed on 2020 Apr 17].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Mushtaq MU. Public health in British India: A brief account of the history of medical services and disease prevention in colonial India. Indian J Community Med 2009;34:6-14.  Back to cited text no. 2
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
3.
Draft PHPCM of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism and Disasters Bill; 2017. Available from: https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/draft/Draft%20PHPCM%20of%20Epidemics,%20Bio-Terrorism%20and%20Disasters%20Bill,%202017.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 31].  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
The Epidemic Diseases act, _1897. Available from: https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/10469/1/the_epidemic_diseases_act%2C_1897.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 23].  Back to cited text no. 4
    



 
 
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