The United Kingdom is lifting restrictions on military service by people who are living with HIV but have an undetectable viral load.
Beginning early next year, those who are positive but undetectable will no longer be barred from joining the armed forces, Reuters reports. Those who test positive while in the military are already barred from discharge, but they are not classified as fully fit for all deployments, and the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence plans to change that.
“Drug treatment has revolutionized the lives and outcomes of people diagnosed with HIV. As a modern and inclusive employer, it is only right that we recognize and act on the latest scientific evidence,” Junior Defence Minister Leo Docherty said, according to Reuters.
Those who have an undetectable level of the virus, achievable with current treatments, cannot transmit it to others according to multiple studies.
The Ministry of Defence also will allow enlistment by people who are on medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV through sex — drugs taken in a strategy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Traditionally, the U.K. armed forces have not admitted people who are on regular medication of any sort, with a few exceptions, such as for contraceptives.
The U.S. continues to place restrictions on service members who have serconverted. People living with HIV are not allowed to enlist in the military, and those who test positive after joining are subject to “a labyrinthine set of regulations that make it difficult for them to serve as officers, hold certain jobs and deploy to combat zones,” as The Washington Post notes.
Some U.S. troops are challenging the HIV policies in court. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the Air Force sought to discharge members living with HIV, and a federal appeals court last year ruled that the airmen could not be discharged. Other cases are pending.
The U.K.’s National AIDS Trust praised the Ministry of Defence’s move. “A career in the armed forces was the only career not open to people living with HIV in the U.K., and with this much-needed change the military will be more able to meet its obligation to promote inclusivity within its ranks,” Deborah Gold, the trust’s chief executive, told Reuters.