Epidemic Diseases Act: Relevance During the Pandemic

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India has witnessed several giant outbreaks of rising and re-emerging infectious diseases within the recent past.[1]  The eruption of an Asiatic cholera epidemic because of the O139 strain in 1992, that of plague in Surat in 1994, the large-scale unfold of chikungunya and infectious disease, which of craniate respiratory illness (H5N1) and pandemic H1N1 respiratory illness were some that caused widespread disturbance. The revitalization of Diphtheria, and therefore the outbreaks caused by the Nipah, Chandipura and Japanese phrenitis viruses and Crimean–Congo virus infection conjointly posed a threat to the country’s public health within the last decade. The emergence of drug-resistant infectious disease and protozoal infection and capital of India Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) – resistant organisms are additionally a matter of concern for the country. As in the other country, diseases with the potential for international unfold, like filovirus sickness and Zika virus, conjointly create threats to the general public health security of Asian nation.

Legal frameworks are necessary throughout emergency things as they’ll delineate the scope of the government’s responses to public health emergencies and conjointly, the duties and rights of voters. In this context, it’s necessary to critically measure the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, its connectedness within the current context and whether or not it’s well-kept with the recent international developments in sickness police work, sickness management and rights perspective. This review makes an attempt to explain the Act, its historical aspects and key parts, this standing of the Act. Further, it aims to spot its limitations and lacunae, and describe sickness police work and response within the country. Finally, it sets bent examine key legislations and therefore the sections of those that are relevant for change Acts or reforms during this space and for proposing recommendations.

The Epidemic Diseases Act was passed in 1897 with the aim of higher preventing the unfold of dangerous epidemic diseases. The definition or description of a “dangerous epidemic disease” isn’t provided within the Act. there’s no clear definition of whether or not a plague is “dangerous” on the idea of the magnitude of the matter, the severity of the matter, the age of the population affected or its potential to unfold internationally. The Epidemic Diseases Act is one in every of the shortest Acts in Asian nation, comprising simply four sections. the primary section explains the title and therefore the extent, whereas the second provides powers to the state and Central governments to require special measures and formulate laws that are to be ascertained by the individuals to contain the unfold of sickness. The third section describes penalties for violating the laws, in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian legal code. The fourth deals with legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.[2] 

According to the provisions of Section 2 of the Act, that describes the powers of the govt, “When the government is happy that the state or part thereof is visited by or vulnerable with a pandemic of any dangerous epidemic disease; and if it thinks that the standard provisions of the law are short for the aim, then the state might take, or need or empower anyone to require some measures and by public notice visit such temporary laws to be ascertained by the general public. The government might visit laws for review of persons motion by railway or otherwise, and therefore the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such sickness. Section 2A empowers the Central government to examine any ship departure or incoming at any port and for detention therefrom, or of anyone desiring to sail in this, or incoming thereby. Section three states, “Six months’ imprisonment or one,000 rupees fine or each might be charged bent the one that disobeys this Act.”

The Act was developed regarding 118 years past and therefore has major limitations during this era of adjusting priorities public health emergency management. The factors resulting in the emergence and unfold of communicable diseases have conjointly modified over the years. a number of the factors that require to be self-addressed currently are the increasing rates of international travel, additional in depth use of travel compared to ocean travel, larger migration at intervals states for the sake of earning a sustenance, the transition from rural to industrial societies, enlarged urbanization, grossly enlarged density of populations in sure areas, increasing intensity of contact with animals and birds, unreal ecological changes, ever-changing weather conditions, technologies of mass food production, breakdown of public health measures and safety lapses. The Epidemic Diseases Act desires modifications within the ever-changing situation.

The Epidemic Diseases Act is solely regulative in nature and lacks a particular public health focus. It doesn’t describe the duties of the govt in preventing and dominant epidemics. The Act emphasize the facility of the govt, however is silent on the rights of voters. it’s no provisions that take the people’s interest into thought. People centredness is regarding considering people’s desires, desires, values, social circumstances, and lifestyles, and dealing along to develop applicable solutions. The Act is additionally silent on the moral aspects or human rights principles that get play throughout the response to a plague. Individual autonomy, liberty, and privacy ought to be revered to the best extent doable, even throughout the social control of laws.

The Act says that “the state might empower anyone to require some measures”. Today, we’ve got a far better structured public health system, with specific individuals responsible of delivering medical aid services. The hindrance of outbreaks of epidemic diseases and their management is that the responsibility of medical aid. As for the moral aspects of a national epidemic law, it’s necessary to handle even handed access to attention. The ethics of public health actions taken in response to a pandemic ought to be thought about, as ought to the obligations of attention staff throughout a pandemic and therefore the obligations of society to them reciprocally. Finally, the obligations of the states and people of intergovernmental organizations should be taken under consideration.

There is a necessity to strengthen legal frameworks to forestall and management the entry, unfold and existence of communicable diseases in Asian nation. The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, that is over a century previous, has major limitations once it involves confronting the emergence and re-emergence of communicable diseases within the country, particularly within the dynamical public health context. Over the years, many nations have developed their own public health laws, and a few have amended the provisions of their infectious disease Acts. However, these Acts vary in quality and content. Most are simply “policing” acts geared toward dominant epidemics and don’t take care of coordinated and scientific responses to forestall and tackle outbreaks. there’s a necessity for associate degree integrated, comprehensive, unjust, and relevant legal provision for the management of outbreaks in Asian nation that ought to be articulated in an exceedingly rights-based, people-focused, and public health-oriented manner. The draft National Health Bill 2009 is one such projected legislation, however it’s still in its long biological time and its fate is unpredictable.


[1] Dikid  T, Jain SK, Sharma A, Kumar A, Narain JP. Emerging and re-emerging infections in India: an overview. Indian J Med Res. 2013;138 (1):19-31.

[2] The Epidemic Disease Act of 1897. Act No 3 of 1897 


Author: Jangyadatta Pradhan from Utkal University.


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