AIDS Advocates Plan To Sue South African Government for Banning HIV-Positive Individuals From Military
The South African AIDS advocacy group AIDS Law Project plans to sue the South African government over Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota's decision last week to ban HIV-positive individuals from serving in the military, the IPS/Star reports. Lekota last week said that "anybody with the condition of HIV cannot be recruited into the defense force. There's no point. You can't put ill people into positions in the army. It's not useful." ALP attorneys say that banning individuals from serving in the military because of their HIV-positive status would violate the antidiscrimination clause in the country's constitution. Lekota said that he "blames" the United Nations for his decision to prohibit HIV-positive people from joining the army, according to the IPS/Star. The South African National Defence Force is primarily involved in peacekeeping missions in other African countries under the auspices of the United Nations. According to Jackie Cilliers of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, the United Nations does not allow HIV-positive individuals to serve on such missions. "So, Minister Lekota's was a good policy statement because he has no option, it is a requirement of all deployments under the U.N.," Cilliers said. Lekota's office said that HIV-positive people would not be excluded from civilian military duty. However, Mark Heywood of the ALP said that the United Nations does not impose a "blanket ban" on HIV-positive troops performing peacekeeping duties. Heywood added that UNAIDS recommends that "HIV status should not be a precondition for exclusion from peacekeeping operations. The SANDF has chosen to ignore this."
HIV-Positive Soldiers Not Necessarily Sick
Some HIV-positive soldiers can still serve on peacekeeping missions because not all HIV-positive people are sick or disabled, according to the IPS/Star. "Science has demonstrated that HIV-positive people can live long," Nkululeko Nxesi, national director of South Africa's National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said, adding, "Even senior people who should be looked upon for direction do not understand the basic facts about HIV" (Haffajee, IPS/Star, 10/14). In a Star editorial, Dr. Fundile Nyati, director of Proactive Health Services, said that a Namibian court found that HIV status is not sufficient grounds for exclusion from that country's military. Nyati called Lekota's decision a "kick in the face" to people who have fought against AIDS discrimination and stigma. Nyati recommends that the military should use CD4+ T cell and viral load counts to determine which soldiers are too sick to be given a foreign assignment (Nyuti, Star, 10/13). Lekota has estimated that HIV prevalence in the military is between 20% and 22%. Approximately 50% of the military forces of Angola, Congo and Malawi are HIV-positive. The HIV prevalence among Swazi troops is 48%; among Zimbabwean forces, the rate is 55%; and in Zambia, 60% of the military is estimated to be HIV-positive, the highest prevalence on the continent (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8).