The South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) says a better understanding of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) makes it possible for the military to safely deploy asymptomatic HIV positive soldiers, thereby boosting the number of troops available for internal and external deployments.
Accepted research estimates SA’s HIV prevalence rate at about 10.8% of the population. There is no figure for the military although evidence in world-acclaimed peer reviewed journals seem to suggest that the prevalence of the virus in the armed forces might be lower than that of the general population.
The Surgeon General, Lt Gen Veejay Ramlakan (pictured, right), has issued a new directive on the health classification and deployability of SA National Defence Force personnel with HIV and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) after the national Cabinet last month approved the selective recruitment and deployment of asymptomatic (not presenting with symptoms of a disease or other medical condition) HIV positive people.
“The understanding of the HIV disease process has improved so much over the last few years that it is possible to predict the course of the disease under various circumstances,” the SAMHS says in a media release.
“This revised policy is the end-result of a process that started already in 2006. Its aim is to ensure that new recruits and SANDF members are optimally selected for the operational requirements of the SANDF. These requirements will be defined by the health standards of the various post profiles in the SANDF and will enable members to be trained and deployed according to the requirements of the organisation,” the release adds.
“The revised policy … was developed after international benchmarking, consultation through workshops and cooperation with the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, the SA National Aids Council, national and international academics, Southern African Development Community defence forces and other stakeholders.
“The results of the consultation process led to the development of a new Department of Defence Directive, DoDD/SG/00006/2009.”
The new policy is also in compliance with a 2008 High Court ruling according to which the existing policy prohibition on the recruitment and external deployment of HIV positive members during peacekeeping operations was ruled unconstitutional.
The SAMHS says the Cabinet decision is premised on the understanding that there will be sufficient medical support available in the deployment area to meet the needs of this selective group of HIV positive members as well as a small group of soldiers with well-controlled, mild chronic disease that meet the pre-determined selection criteria.
“Members of the Department of Defence must be aware that the DoD ascribes to the National Comprehensive Care and Management Treatment Programme in dealing with HIV and AIDS. All military health services and activities for HIV and AIDS are executed in line with the National Department of Health. This includes prevention, promotion, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, terminal care, research and development, as well as social support and risk management.”
SAMHS spokesman Colonel Louis Kirstein adds the SANDF will ensure the implementation of the new policy reflects “the constitutional imperatives of this country. All applicable governance will be applied during future health assessments for recruitment, training, selection, utilisation and deployment of SANDF members. This approach will contribute to the improvement of the state of readiness of the SANDF.”
“The single most important medical criterion for the deployment of an HIV-positive member is physical, mental and emotional fitness to perform his/her expected duties for the duration of deployment within the medical capability in the mission area and without any additional risk to the health of the member related to his/her HIV-positive status.”
The SAMHS adds the SANDF’s Military Command Council includes the Chief of the SANDF and his Service chiefs in November 2006 instructed the Surgeon General to investigate and introduce a G2K1 (green classification) for HIV and AIDS members with stabilised medical conditions that required minimum treatment.
“This instruction was adhered to…”