Feds to Allow HIV-Positive People to Serve in Public Health Roles
The change is attributable to advances in treatment, officials say.
The Biden administration will no longer prevent individuals with HIV and hepatitis B from serving in federal public health rolls, reversing longstanding policy.
Those with chronic hepatitis B and HIV will now be eligible for roles within the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a division of the Health and Human Services Department. Developments that have made both viruses manageable conditions spurred the change, HHS said in an announcement that coincided with World AIDS Day.
The change will only apply to HIV patients receiving antiretroviral therapy who have an undetectable viral load and show no evidence of impaired immunity, and applicants with hepatitis B who also show low viral blood levels and no evidence of clinically significant liver damage. HHS officials said the department was hoping to lead by example in demonstrating the advances in the treatment for and understanding of those living with the viruses.
“I am honored to be a part of a change much bigger than our service,” said Adm. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health at HHS. “By changing our medical accession standards to reflect the latest evidence, we show the world that we are putting science first. I am proud of the [Public Health Service] Commissioned Corps for breaking barriers to help create a future where people are encouraged and able to follow their dreams.”
The Public Health Service’s 6,000 officers deploy around the country in emergencies and to provide care to underserved populations. The corps includes physicians, nurses, dentists, dietitians, veterinarians, therapists, engineers, pharmacists and others who work at 800 locations in the United States as well as in some foreign assignments. They frequently deploy for disaster response and played a key role in the federal government’s effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“The dedicated officers who serve the [Public Health Service's] Commissioned Corps work tirelessly to protect, promote, and advance the health of our nation country in emergencies and to provide care to underserved populations,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “We are thrilled to announce this step to expand eligibility for those who want to serve their nation as Public Health Service officers, removing barriers to entrance for those with controlled levels of HIV and chronic hepatitis B. I am excited to welcome new potential recruits and create a more diverse community within our service.”
The change went into effect immediately on Dec. 1. U.S. Public Health Service candidates must still meet a wide variety of qualification requirements, including being less than 44 years old and falling within height and weight restrictions. They cannot have conditions such as diabetes, tuberculosis or impaired vision or hearing.