Being HIV-positive or taking preventative treatment for the disease will no longer be a barrier for serving in the UK Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has announced.
In an announcement to coincide with World Aids Day, ministers have said candidates taking medication to prevent HIV infection will be accepted to join the military, while serving personnel who are HIV-positive will be permitted to take part in operations.
Defence minister Leo Docherty said: "Drug treatment has revolutionised the lives and outcomes of people diagnosed with HIV.
"As a modern and inclusive employer, it is only right that we recognise and act on the latest scientific evidence.
"I'm delighted that an exciting and fulfilling career in the Armed Forces is now open to many more people."
As part of the changes, from Wednesday people who do not have HIV but who are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to protect against potential infection will be able to join and serve in the Armed Forces with no restrictions.
The policy change was reached with the help of Lieutenant Commander Oliver Brown, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2019.
He told Forces News: “I feel lucky that I work in an organisation that is positive, open-minded, accepting of challenge and has allowed this opportunity to happen.”
He added: “It will change so many people’s lives – not just in defence or people that want to join defence, but people in any walk of life who now just know someone has stood up and said it’s ok.”
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Officials said that "urgent work" is also under way to allow candidates with HIV, who are on treatment and whose blood tests show no detectable virus, to also join.
Historically, the military has not permitted candidates to join who take regular medications, citing the "logistical burden".
However, the MOD said the change would see using PrEP treated the same as taking contraception, meaning it will not be a barrier and there is no implication of discouraging the use of the medication as a result.
Meanwhile, in reforms expected to come in during the spring, serving personnel who have been diagnosed with HIV will be recognised as fully fit for operations when there is no detectable virus in their blood tests.
Support for them to access suppressive treatment will also continue.
Under the current policy, people with HIV are not able to join the Armed Forces, and anyone diagnosed with the virus while serving is no longer deemed "fully fit" and is unable to deploy on certain operations as a result.
The new changes will see the UK become the second country to update its policy on those living with HIV serving in the military – after South Africa.
Ian Green, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust, called it the "right decision" and said there was "no reason" why those with HIV should not have the opportunity to serve.
The HIV and sexual health charity boss said: "This is a momentous day which shows how far we have come in the fight against HIV.
"It is absolutely the right decision and there is no reason why people living with HIV shouldn't serve in our Armed Forces.
"It's crucial that all the medical progress that's been made in HIV is reflected in our rules and regulations, with the Armed Forces a clear outlier up until today.
"These changes must now be urgently implemented.
"Many people will be surprised to learn that this ban was still in place and its removal will mean a huge amount to people living with HIV wanting to join or already serving in the military," he added.