South Africa: Victory for Soldiers Living With HIV
November 11, 2009
Last week, South Africa's Cabinet approved a new policy that will allow the national defense force (SANDF) to selectively recruit and deploy soldiers who are HIV-positive. The move follows a high court decision last year that declared SANDF's old policy unconstitutional. A court order gave the government and AIDS advocates six months to revise the guidelines.
"If the last draft that we looked at is the one approved by Cabinet, then it's a very positive step," said Mark Heywood, executive director of the AIDS Law Project, which also argued the case on behalf of the South African Security Forces Union.
The old policy excluded HIV-positive people from being recruited and soldiers with HIV from being deployed or receiving advanced training, the union had argued. Soldiers on foreign deployment receive higher pay.
One of the three original plaintiffs, an HIV-positive firearms expert who trains soldiers for foreign missions, missed chances for deployment in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi even after the high court order. He was finally deployed to Sudan last month. A second applicant was a trumpeter in the military band whom the military refused to employ. The third soldier could not be promoted due to his HIV-status.
Critics said the Cabinet decision would make the military less reliable.
"There seems to be no understanding among our political leaders, and others, that the armed forces are not like a municipality or a supermarket company," said defense analyst Helmoed Heitman, a South African correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly. Soldiers must be ready to function under "extreme conditions that the rest of us simply do not encounter," he said. They are at risk of being wounded and are expected to provide immediate assistance to wounded colleagues, he said. "It is primarily these factors that make HIV an issue that goes somewhat beyond any individual health assessment."
Business Day (South Africa)
11.09.2009; Wilson Johwa
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.