Ending longstanding taboo, IDF pushes for HIV carriers to enlist
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Ending longstanding taboo, IDF pushes for HIV carriers to enlist

Army medical officer says move, made possible with advances in medicine, will affect few but send important message

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustration. IDF recruits. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Illustration. IDF recruits. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)

In light of recent medical developments, Israeli teenagers infected with HIV may soon be drafted into the army along with their peers, a top IDF medical officer said on Tuesday.

Under the proposed change, HIV carriers will no longer be immediately disqualified from army service, as they are today, though they will not be eligible for combat positions.

The relatively small number — maybe a few dozen per year — of teenagers living with HIV in Israel would be able to serve in administrative roles or in other positions where the risk of injury is low, Col. Dr. Moshe Pinkert told reporters on Tuesday, marking World AIDS Day.

Though this change will impact relatively few people, the message that it sends is more important, Pinkert said. “The number is less important than the principle.”

By not only allowing, but requiring people with HIV to serve in the army, it will “remove some of the stigma surrounding the disease” and better integrate those people into Israeli society, Pinkert said.

“We’re making them like everyone else,” he added. “There’s no connection between the disease and their intellectual capabilities or their creative abilities.”

Though other countries, including the United States, allow soldiers to continue serving in the army even if they contract HIV during their service, most treat HIV infection as immediate grounds to disqualify a candidate for recruitment.

Israeli officials often proudly tout the army’s policy of inclusion, which they say has been ahead of the international curve on assigning women and gays to combat positions, and utilizing soldiers with autism, Down’s Syndrome and other handicaps.

But until now, soldiers with HIV and other serious diseases have been kept from serving unless they fight to override a low medical profile score and volunteer for the army.

There are approximately 10 soldiers currently serving who opted to volunteer for the IDF when their status as HIV carriers initially prevented their conscription, according to Pinkert, head of the army’s medical services department.

As doctors have become better equipped to handle the human immunodeficiency virus, the threat to the carrier’s health and the potential to infect others is “almost non-existent,” Pinkert said.

Those improvements in the medical community’s ability to treat HIV carriers prompted the army’s Medical Corps to reevaluate its position on the virus. Finding no legitimate medical obstacle for a person living with HIV to serve in the army, the corps has decided to recommend the change to the army’s chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Dr. Dudu Dagan.

Dagan will need final approval from the Health Ministry before the proposal can be adopted, but Pinkert said he did not foresee any complications of pushback against the decision on the horizon.

“I don’t anticipate it will even take several months,” Pinkert said.

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