Today the UK Government has confirmed that it will overturn the ban that has been preventing people living with HIV from joining the armed forces. This is welcome news and comes as a result of our work alongside an inspiring member of the Royal Navy who is living with HIV, Lt Cdr Oliver Brown.
The policy change makes the UK the second in the world after South Africa to update its rules in line with the huge medical progress in HIV. The decision removes one of the last limits for people living with HIV having the careers they want.
The ban will now be overturned and people living with HIV who are on treatment and virally suppressed will be able to serve. This is based on the realities of HIV today, with overwhelming evidence that there is no medical reason why people living with HIV who are on treatment cannot serve in the military.
This change will not only benefit new recruits but will bring overdue relief to serving members who are living with HIV who will now be classed as fully deployable. Currently, where personnel are already serving in the forces and are then diagnosed with HIV, they are often medically downgraded, meaning they may not be able to deploy overseas with their units. This is medically unnecessary and will change following today’s announcement.
It has also been announced that from today the use of HIV prevention pill PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) by potential recruits who are HIV negative will no longer be a barrier to entry to the forces. This is crucial as it should never be a choice between preventing HIV and fulfilling your ambitions.
Lt Cdr Oliver Brown of the Royal Navy is living with HIV. He said: ‘Being diagnosed with HIV in November 2019 was a shock and my knowledge of what my life would become was lacking. I did not even know if I would be able to remain in service. I was glad to learn this was not the case and my life would change very little except for one tablet a day. Today proves even more that living with HIV has no restriction and that UK Defence is truly a diverse and inclusive organisation.
‘This does not mean the fight against stigma ends; it is however a firm nail in its coffin. I know all too well the personal toll this stigma takes on your mental health but the support of my family, friends, colleagues and Terrence Higgins Trust has enabled me to have the strength to challenge this stigma in every part of my life.’
Ian Green, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: ‘This is a momentous day which shows how far we have come in the fight against HIV. It is absolutely the right decision and there is no reason why people living with HIV shouldn’t serve in our armed forces. It’s crucial that all the medical progress that’s been made in HIV is reflected in our rules and regulations with the armed forces a clear outlier up until today. These changes must now be urgently implemented.
‘Many people will be surprised to learn that this ban was still in place and its removal will mean a huge amount to people living with HIV wanting to join or already serving in the military. It also sends a clear message to everyone that HIV has changed and does not have to stop you doing anything you want to do. That’s an incredibly powerful, stigma-busting message on World AIDS Day.’