The Recruitment, Enlistment, and Deployment of HIV-Positive Military Service Members: An Evaluation of South African and U.S. National, Alongside International, Policies

Enoch Assan Ninson, Heather Morgan

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Since its detection in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have claimed 32.7 million lives. The HIV epidemic continues to plague the world with its most devastating effects felt in Eastern and Southern Africa. The exposure, vulnerability, and impact of HIV have been prominent among military personnel due to environmental, demographic, and socioeconomic characteristics. Policies have been developed to mitigate its exposure, vulnerability, and impact on the military. However, there are disparities across these policies, especially on recruitment, enlistment, and deployment. These contentions inspired this evaluation, which was designed to provide vital information and insights for militaries developing new HIV policies, for example, the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF). Content analyses of key documents and secondary resources from South Africa (SA), the USA, and the United Nations and International Labour Organizations were undertaken. The key documents evaluated included HIV and AIDS policies of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), the U.S. DoD, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and International Labour Organization (ILO); national HIV and AIDS policies; and legislations of SA and the USA. The SANDF policy permits the recruitment of HIV-positive applicants while the U.S. DoD policy does not. Mandatory pre-employment health assessments including HIV testing is conducted for prospective applicants. Again, discrimination against persons living with HIV (PLHIV) is discouraged by national policies and legislations of both countries and the ILO policy. At the same time, the SA national policy permits discrimination based on requirement of the job.On deployment, the SANDF policy explicitly permits deployment of HIV-positive service members, while the U.S. DoD policy cautiously does so. Both policies support mandatory pre-deployment health assessments in line with the UN peacekeeping policy and medical standards even though voluntary confidential HIV counseling and testing is recommended by the UN. All HIV-positive service members are retained and offered treatment and care services; however, the U.S. DoD policy retires unfit service members after 12 months of consecutive non-deployment. Further, the UN policy repatriates service members with pre-existing medical conditions and pays no compensation for death, injury, or illness, which is due to pre-existing medical conditions or not mission-related. First, the contents of the military policies are not very diverse since most militaries do not enlist or deploy PLHIV except few countries including SA. Implementation and interpretation is however inconsistent. Some militaries continue to exclude PLHIV despite the existence of policies that permit their inclusion. Second, discrepancies exist among the military policies, national legislations, and international policies. The UN policy is not coherent and empowers the military to exclude PLHIV. Also, potential costs to be incurred, in the form of compensation and repatriation, seem to be a major factor in the decision to deploy HIV-positive service members. Harmonization of military HIV policies to ensure uniform standards, interpretation, and implementation and the coherence of the UN policy are essential to guide countries developing new policies, for example, GAF. [Abstract copyright: © The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States 2021. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:]
Original languageEnglish
Article numberusab167
Pages (from-to)897–902
Number of pages6
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number9-10
Early online date30 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2021


  • hiv
  • global assessment of functioning
  • military deployment
  • military personnel


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