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International News
AIDS Law Project to Sue South African National Defence Forces for Rejecting HIV-Positive Individuals for Employment

September 1, 2004

The South African AIDS advocacy group AIDS Law Project plans to sue the South African National Defence Forces on behalf of several individuals who were rejected for employment in the military because of their HIV-positive status, SAPA/ reports. Two of the individuals in the complaint are soldiers who had fulfilled all other SANDF employment requirements, including fitness and psychological testing. They were accepted into the program until officials learned through their medical reports that they were HIV-positive, according to SAPA/ Another individual in the complaint is a woman who had applied and been rejected for a chaplain position. Under SANDF policy, all recruits are required to submit to comprehensive health assessments and are not admitted if they fail for any reason, including being HIV-positive. "We look at eyes, teeth, high blood pressure, for all ailments including HIV/AIDS," Defence Ministry spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said, adding, "The media want to give a person with HIV more weight than a person with high blood pressure. The bottom line is that the uniformed member must be 100% healthy" (SAPA/, 8/30). Approximately 23% of the 75,000 SANDF soldiers are estimated to be HIV-positive, SANDF Health Service Director Pieter Oelofse announced last month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/19).

ALP Suit
According to ALP advocate Liesl Gerntholtz, SANDF has a de facto policy that requires HIV testing for new recruits and rejects anyone who tests positive. "We have documents from the South African medical health services of the SANDF that indicate that the protocol that deals with HIV testing says explicitly that if you [test HIV-positive] then you are automatically considered to be medically unfit for employment in the SANDF," Gerntholtz said. ALP claims that rejection based on HIV status is discriminatory and in violation of constitutional guarantees to equity (SAPA/, 8/30). Gerntholtz also said that the "extent" of a recruits' illnesses and not just their HIV status should be taken into consideration. "It's a blanket exclusion; they don't consider your actual state of health," she said, adding, "There is no ... (blood) count, there is nothing that indicates where you are in terms of disease progression."

Human Right, Human Resources
A potential ALP suit is "controversial" because some military analysts feel that admitting HIV-positive recruits could result in a "physically weakened defense force" that could affect regional stability and the finances of SANDF, according to the South African Press Association. "The SANDF is falling apart as there are not enough financial resources," Lindy Heinecken, deputy director of the South Africa Military Academy at the University of Stellenbosch, said, adding, "The only way to create leadership in the military is for the recruits to progress through the ranks. Otherwise there is anarchy and poor leadership. It is hard then to see that investment in training falling away because of HIV/AIDS." SANDF recently launched a clinical research program, called Project PHIDISA, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense and the HIV/AIDS awareness program MASIBAMBISANE, a project of the Swiss-South African Cooperation Initiative, to curb the spread of the virus among military personnel. HIV-positive project volunteers are provided with antiretroviral drugs at no cost (South African Press Association, 8/30).

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