This article is written by Swetalika Das from Amity University, Kolkata. This is an exhaustive article which talks about notifiable diseases and the laws related to them.
Have you ever noticed how the Government health authorities get information about the COVID-19 waves? How do we get such accurate information about the pandemic even before its commencement? Ever wondered about the reason behind this? As the heading already suggests, the article deals with notified diseases. The term ‘notified disease’ refers to a disease that is dangerous to the health of society and that requires an action by law by notifying about the disease to the Government health authorities, who further monitor the disease and provide warnings to the society before the pandemic. Any failure to report a notifiable disease would lead to a criminal offence and be liable for necessary actions.
If the law is playing a necessary role in notifying diseases to the Government authorities then it is important to know more about the exact laws that are related to notified diseases both globally and nationally. Therefore, the article provides a brief insight into the Indian and global laws related to notified diseases.
History of notifiable diseases
Historically, the world has experienced around 20 deleterious pandemics. Numerous pandemics have happened in history but there were no proper laws to protect the affected people. Back in the fourteenth century, the first law for quarantine was started but proper laws were only enacted in the year 1710 in Britain, due to the outbreak of the disease plague which affected millions of people. However, in the 19th century, broad quarantine laws were enacted. The outbreak of the second pandemic of cholera had made the British Government enforce a proper statute on the public health laws, that is, the Public Health Act 1848. This Act put an obligation upon the public health care authorities to examine infectious diseases like cholera and to observe the illness of their local community.
After the enforcement of laws related to quarantine, the British government enacted the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act 1889 to notify about the infectious diseases that can severely harm the health of the community. The provisions were made compulsory throughout the country by 1899. The provisions allowed members of the family or the head of the family or the medical staff or officers to notify the Government about the infectious diseases.
Some examples of notifiable diseases:
- Bacterial Diseases such as cholera.
- Diseases spread by contact such as hepatitis.
- Diseases spread through the gastrointestinal route.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV.
- Disease caused by Viruses such as COVID-19.
Global laws on notifiable diseases
The International Health Regulations, 2005
Earlier, the International Health Regulations were confined only to the prevention of small diseases such as smallpox, cholera, etc. The provisions were re-examined after the continuous spread of the highly contagious Influenza virus; commonly known as “the flu” that attacks the respiratory system of a person. The new International Health Regulations were established that imposes obligations on all the countries. Countries have to provide a report of any infectious disease that can affect people globally to the World Health Organisation (WHO). They are required to perform a clear survey of every case that can affect public health. After a proper investigation and examination of the diseases, the countries would notify WHO.
The International Health Regulations,2005 allows the Federal Governments such as Australia, India, Canada, and the US to make proper surveys and investigations at both the state and national levels. Earlier, the Federal Governments were self-governing states, which meant the responsibilities related to Public health matters were only upon the states and not upon the national government. However, the regulations in 2005 made a significant change after acknowledging the consequences faced by the world due to the influenza virus.
In case of any emergencies, the country has its statutes like Emergency Act, 2007 and Emergency Act, 1988 for security measures and management. As Canada is a Federal Government, most of the public health issues are managed within the state level. The states have their provisions to control and provide safety measures in case of an outbreak. Therefore, the state government mostly handles the public health issues with some coordination from the Central Governmentovernment. There are a few statutes are related to public health matters and notifiable diseases, which are as follows:
The Public Health Agency of Canada Act, 2006
The Public health agency of Canada handles the matters related to the prevention and control of highly infectious and chronic diseases and plays an important role in providing support to public health emergencies. The provisions of the Act primarily deal with the general provisions, regulations, duties, functions, and obligations upon the public health officers. However, Section 12(1) states that the chief public health officer has to submit an annual report within six months after the end of each fiscal year to the state minister of public health in Canada. The report must explain the status of public health in Canada. Similarly, in sub-section (3), the Chief Public Health Officer may need to make a report on public health whenever any issue arises.
The Quarantine Act, 2005
The purpose of this Act is to protect public health and to take preventive measures for the spreading of infectious diseases. The Act also mentions the facilities provided by the Government in quarantine situations. Furthermore, the Act imposes certain obligations upon the travellers during the Quarantine.
United States (US)
The Public Health Services Act 1944 primarily deals with and controls the public health issues in the United States. It creates an Administrative framework to regulate the public health issues and allow some supplemental public health personnel. Regarding the notifiable diseases, Section 312(244) allows the medical professionals along with the local emergency medical system to notify any case of dangerous disease. The Act was last amended in the year 2019.
The National health security Act, 2007 along with the National Security Health Regulations, 2008 provides a beneficial effect to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Section 11 of the Act has issued a list of notifiable diseases in Australia under the National health security Act (National Notifiable Disease List) Instrument 2018.
Section 13 of the Act contains the provision for notifiable diseases. It states that the public health authorities must share information and notifications regarding the National health events and listed notifiable diseases. These regulations provide the best facilities in the public health department to regulate and manage the public healthcare sectors. It also ensures effective management and determines the capacity of the authorities to report or notify about the listed diseases quickly to the Central Government.
Australia also has some other organizations and committees for this public health purpose, such as the National health protection committee, the Communicable diseases committee and the Public Health Laboratory Network. These committees help and manage during pandemics or epidemics. To manage the quarantine situations, the Quarantine Act 1908 lays down the meaning of quarantine and the responsibilities of the people during the quarantine, and the punishment if anyone fails to follow the law.
Indian statutes dealing with notifiable diseases
Generally speaking, various laws in India manage the public health dimensions. However, certain statutes are significant for infectious diseases that must be notified to the Government authority. The following statutes are:
Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
The government has established the Food Safety and Standards Authority in India to allow the authorities to perform their duties as mentioned in the Act. The name of the Act already defines the purpose behind its establishment. When it comes to food safety, the most common and serious disease related to it is ‘Food Poisoning’ and hence, it is a notifiable disease. Section 35 of the Act allows all medical practitioners to notify the cases of food positioning to the food authority. Such food safety officers shall be appointed by the Commissioner of Food Safety after properly examining their qualifications and capabilities to perform their respective tasks.
The Lepers Act, 1898
Section 2(1) of the Lepers Act,1989 defines the word “leper” as the person who is suffering from any kind of leprosy. Leprosy is a notifiable disease in India and for this purpose, the Government of India has enacted a separate statute to deal with leprosy. The provisions of the statute would be applicable after the Government receives the notification of the disease. The Government has also made several facilities and arrangements like leper asylums for the treatment of affected people.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
As we have already seen the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic we can easily assume the situation without any preventive safety measures and provisions to control a pandemic. Therefore, it’s necessary to have a specific statute for the notifiable diseases that can cause a pandemic or epidemic. For this reason, the Government of India has enacted a separate statute for the epidemic situations. The provisions of the Act are for the special occasions when the Government finds the other public health legislations insufficient to control or prevent the dangerous epidemic disease. If any person or authority is found to violate any provision of the Act then he would be punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 with an imprisonment of 3 months which can be extended up to five years, and a fine of Rs.50,000 which can be extended up to Rs.1,00,000.
National AIDS control and prevention policy, 2002
In India, AIDS disease is a notifiable disease as it is highly contagious and difficult to prevent. To prevent this disease, proper safety measures are required to follow. The Government had established the National AIDS control and prevention policy in the year 2002 for safety purposes and to control the spread of this infectious disease.
Epidemic Act in light of the COVID-19 situation
In the COVID-19 situation, the Indian Government observed the need for the Epidemic Act to control the spread of the disease. However, they further observed that the provisions of the Epidemic Act were outdated. Therefore, in solution to this, the Government implemented the Epidemic diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 that will allow the provisions of the Epidemic Act to prevent the spread of the disease. The Ordinance amends the Epidemic Act to provide protection and powers to the Central Government to control from spreading of the COVID-19. Some of the important provisions of the Ordinance are:
- The Ordinance defines health care personnel as a person who carries out their duties by putting themselves at risk of contracting a dangerous disease that resulted in the epidemic. The health care personnel includes doctors, nurses, any person who has power under the Act to control the epidemic diseases and other persons appointed by the state government.
The Ordinance also defines “an act of violence” against health care personnel which means:
- any kind of harassment that impacts their life or work.
- Harm, injury, hurt to their life.
- Loss or damage to their property or documents. The properties in this Act include clinical establishment, mobile medical unit, quarantine facility and other properties related to the health care personnel and the epidemic.
- The Ordinance further states the powers of the Central Government that includes regulation of activities by any person who is intending to travel by bus, train, ship, vehicle, aircraft, or port during the epidemic situation.
- The Ordinance provided the required punishment for the above-mentioned acts caused by any person, which is imprisonment for a minimum term of three years and a maximum of five years, and a fine of minimum ranging between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakhs. If any action has caused grievous hurt to the healthcare personnel, the term of imprisonment can be increased up to seven years and the fine can be increased up to Rs 5 lakhs.
- In case of damage or loss to property, the person is liable under the Ordinance to provide compensation to the healthcare personnel. The compensation would be two times the market value of the property. In case the person cannot provide the compensation, it would be managed under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1980.
- The Ordinance allows for investigation of such offences and the same should be completed within 30 days from the date of F.I.R.
- The trial under the Ordinance has a very limited time. It should be completed within one year. If in case the trial gets delayed then the Judge must provide the relevant reasons for the delay to receive an extension for the trial. However, the extension of the time limit of the trial should not be more than six months
To sum up the above submissions we can say that the provision of noticeable diseases plays an important role in identifying the spread of dangerous diseases and the risk associated with public health. The early detection of notifiable diseases is what makes the Central Government take further preventive steps towards the control and spread of these diseases, and also to take safety measures in the form of providing medical facilities to the affected people and their families. Based on the statutes described above, it can reasonably be concluded that law has played an indispensable role in regulating the activities related to public health issues including notifiable diseases. The various laws of different countries state not only about notifiable diseases but also about the punishments for failing to follow the regulations. This shows that the provisions of notifiable diseases are being taken seriously by the government, both nationally and globally.
- The Epidemic Act Of India 1897: An Analysis Vis-À-Vis The Covid-19 Pandemic – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – India
- Notification and Disease Control: Obligations of the Medical Practitioner Under Public Health Legislation
- Notifiable disease reporting | SA Health
- Comparative Analysis of National Legislation in Support of the Revised International Health Regulations: Potential Models for Implementation in the United States
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