Martial law and conscription of people living with HIV: new changes and challenges

With the beginning of russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the introduction of martial law, the issue of conscription of citizens with HIV status into the army has become an urgent one. The decision on fitness for service is made individually by the Military Medical Commission. However, are people living with HIV (PLHIV) provided with proper conditions? What are the risks to their health, and are their rights and interests protected during the military conflict? Virusoff tried to examine these aspects in detail and find answers.

According to changes in the legislation, when martial law is introduced, those who were recognized as unfit for military service in peacetime for health reasons are subject to mobilization. This also applies to people with HIV status. The amendments allow citizens in the second and third stages of HIV infection to be drafted, provided they are taking systemic antiretroviral therapy (ART). It is important to note that at the fourth stage of HIV infection, the most acute stage, the service remains unfit.

The expansion of the category of HIV-positive people with limited fitness for military service is determined by the principle of non-discrimination. With the normal functioning of ART therapy, the risk of HIV transmission to others is minimized, which is taken into account in the updated regulation on military medical examination.

Human rights defenders and civic activists welcome the elimination of discriminatory norms but point to problems in the conscription procedure for people with HIV status. They have already received more than 300 appeals, which point to refusals to conscript or insufficient medical examinations.

“If we are talking about those who consciously take therapy from the beginning of the infection and live a full life, it is one thing. But many people, due to the underdeveloped testing culture, learn about their status too late and do not start treatment on time. Against this background, most of those I have met have problems with memory, speech, coordination… And we are talking about combat operations, so a person must be very adequate in order not to betray his comrades,” – emphasizes Lidiya Topolevska, Coordinator of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union public reception in Lviv, who has been counseling people with HIV status for eight years.

However, the leadership of the Medical Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine believes that the new examination procedure avoids mistakes and provides specificity in assessing fitness for service. So far, specific restrictions on the place of service of HIV-positive people have not been defined, and it is at the discretion of commanders, taking into account the conclusions of the Military Medical Commission. Limited fitness excludes only recruitment to special forces units. “If a person has a zero viral load, he or she cannot infect others, meaning that he or she is safe for society. But it needs to be kept under control,” – says Dmytro Sherembey, Head of the 100% Life Charitable Foundation. He also emphasizes the importance of leaving opportunities for those with HIV who want to serve, provided they are in good health and take their medications systematically, and the need to protect the personal data of HIV-positive people in the army by introducing an electronic data processing system to ensure confidentiality and security.

The introduction of new rules on the conscription of citizens with HIV in wartime opens a new stage in understanding and regulating this issue. Although there are some steps toward taking into account the rights of the HIV community, it is important to continue working on improving medical screening, protecting privacy, and creating appropriate conditions for military service.

The health and rights of every citizen, especially those from key populations, should be at the forefront. The current changes and discussions are another step in a complex process aimed at ensuring justice and protecting people’s rights in the difficult conditions of military conflict. The material was prepared on the basis of the original source –