The British Armed Forces has finally lifted a ban on people living with HIV joining the army, though restrictions on PrEP remain.
From Tuesday (21 June), serving personnel living with HIV who are receiving effective treatment will be recognised as fully fit to serve and be able to deploy overseas.
Service members will need to be receiving treatment that suppresses their viral load – the amount of HIV in their blood – to an undetectable level.
The British Armed Forces also pledged to provide both domestic and overseas personnel with better access to HIV treatments and sexual health care.
Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said: “We’re delighted the promised changes have been enacted and HIV is no longer a bar to people serving in the military, meaning the last barrier to employment for people living with HIV has finally been removed.”
“We hope this will help to dismantle the harmful stigma that has surrounded HIV for decades.
“It’s now vital the armed forces works to ensure all military personnel have access to the right information to prevent HIV, and support is in place for those serving and living with HIV.”
The policy applies to all personnel in the British Army and the Royal Navy. But for those in the Royal Air Force, one barrier remains.
Those wishing to serve as military aircrew and air traffic controllers are still not allowed to take HIV-preventative pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
Aircrew medical requirements require staff to “maintain the required level of fitness-to-fly” – but because of the potential side effects, those taking PrEP are not allowed to apply for the Royal Air Force at all.
The Ministry of Defence has vowed to change this by August, sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said in a statement, “and we’ll keep the pressure on to make sure that this happens.”
The restriction on those enlisting in the British Army and the Royal Navy taking PrEP was removed last year as part of wider policy changes announced by the Ministry of Defence on World AIDS Day.
PrEP, a tablet taken once per day, prevents people from acquiring HIV. (Daniel Born/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty)
Historically, PrEP users couldn’t join the military as officials considered those taking regular medication a “logistical burden“. Now the drug is viewed in much the same way as contraception.
The British Armed Forces overturning its ban on HIV-positive people comes only a day after a ban on commercial pilots with HIV was overturned by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.
The US Department of Defence similarly scrapped its ban on HIV-positive service members earlier in June.
Such moves show people living with HIV can and should have any career they want, HIV-positive naval officer Oliver Brown said.
“From today I can be considered fully fit by the Royal Navy for the first time since I told them about my HIV diagnosis. Being labelled as limited deployable made me question myself and doubt my capability – it took a toll on my mental health,” Brown said in a statement.
“The message is loud and clear,” he added, “people living with HIV are not limited in any way.”
After someone living with HIV starts taking medication, it usually takes around six months for their viral load to come down to an undetectable level, a study by The Partners PrEP found.