The South African cabinet has approved a new policy prohibiting discrimination against soldiers and would-be recruits on the basis of their HIV status.
Previously, HIV-positive members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) could be excluded from recruitment, international deployment, and promotion, but a 2008 high court decision declared such policies unconstitutional and gave the SANDF six months to amend them.
The high court case was brought by the AIDS Law Project (ALP) on behalf of the South African Security Forces Union (SASFU) and two HIV-positive men. One man was an SANDF member who had not been allowed to join his unit on foreign deployments; the other had been denied employment in the SANDF, based on his status.
The ALP expressed disappointment about the length of time the SANDF took to comply with the court order and the persistence of unfair discrimination against HIV-positive soldiers and recruits, but in October one of the men, Sergeant Sipho Mthethwa, became the first known HIV-positive soldier to be deployed on international service.
The SANDF had argued that people living with HIV were unfit to withstand the stress and physical demands of foreign deployments. An estimated 25 percent of SANDF employees are HIV positive, higher than the national adult prevalence of 18 percent.
See also: SOUTH AFRICA: Military's HIV ban unlawful
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