Holly Phillips explains the recent announcement
On 1st December, it was announced that people who do not have HIV but who are taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) will be able to apply for the armed forces for the first time. Additionally, there is urgent work underway to allow people with HIV, on treatment - meaning their blood tests show that the virus is undetectable - to be able to join the armed forces. This change is likely to be put into action in spring 2022.
105,200 people are living with HIV in the UK and, globally, around 38 million people have HIV. HIV is a Human Immunodeficiency Virus that weakens the immune system. It is commonly confused with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which are infections people can acquire after contracting HIV. If HIV is untreated, it can lead to late stage HIV or AIDS. AIDS cannot be transmitted but HIV can be.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are many effective treatments that allow people with the virus to live a long and healthy life. Antiretroviral medicines are used to treat HIV by stopping the virus from replicating. The goal of this treatment is to create an undetectable viral load, meaning that it will not be detected by a test, and it can be unnoticed following the correct precautions.
Symptoms of HIV include flu-like illnesses, which is why people live with HIV and are unknown that they are affected. This is why it is so important to have regular sexual health checks and tests. The most common way to contract HIV is through unprotected sex, but other ways include sharing needles, syringes or transmission through birth or breastfeeding.
This monumental announcement regarding the armed forces was made on World Aids Day. World Aids Day is a day dedicated to fighting against HIV, to support people living with HIV and to raise awareness worldwide. This day was founded in 1988, leading it to be the first ever global health day.
This wasn’t long after the original ban of people with HIV joining the armed forces came into force in 1985. The reason for this ban is said to be due to people living with HIV being deemed not ‘fully fit’. Since then, HIV treatment has come a long way and the armed forces are said to be moving towards being a more modern and inclusive employer, ensuring that HIV is no longer a barrier to entry.
This ban being overturned is a huge mark in history. It’ll not only benefit new recruits, but will also change the lives of many who had to be deployed or medically downgraded due to contracting the virus. The lift on these restrictions will also assist in breaking the stigma surrounding living with HIV by sending a clear message that living with HIV does not stop you from doing what you want to do.
Words by Holly Phillips