The Peace Corps has been a shining example of America’s dedication to helping others in the world since 1961. Started by President John F. Kennedy, the group has served in over 140 countries with over 220,000 volunteers. Now, some former members of the Peace Corps have alleged that the group violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by removing HIV positive volunteers from their posts.
The Peace Corps is a volunteer program. Their work generally involves social and economic development in underprivileged regions of the world. Each participant in the program is an American citizen, most commonly with a college degree. These volunteers work overseas for a typical period of two years. They often work in the fields of education, business and information technology.
In 2008, a volunteer named Jeremiah Johnson alleged that he was fired from serving in the Peace Corps after being diagnosed with HIV. At the time, the Peace Corps had a policy known as “automatic medical separation.” This policy meant that any person serving overseas in the Peace Corps would be removed from their post and taken back to Washington D.C. to begin appropriate treatment for HIV. Only after proving new treatment was working could Johnson, or anyone else removed by this policy, apply for a new post.
This year, more men have alleged that they were removed for the same policy. A man named Romany Tin, who was teaching English in Cambodia, claims that he tested positive for HIV in January. After one month of treatment, he claims his viral load was undetectable but he was still fired from the Peace Corps.
“They’re such a progressive organization, but their stigma and knowledge of HIV and how to treat it is very backwards,” said Tin. “I feel very mistreated. I feel angry.”
Other volunteers have claimed that Peace Corps doctors denied them PrEP and quickly removed them from their host countries due to the cultural stigma of HIV. These accusations have lead to LGBTQ groups condemning the policies of the Peace Corps. Some groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have begun exploring lawsuit options for these cases.
The decision to be health conscious, to get tested for HIV and to take steps to prevent the spread of HIV should be celebrated. Having HIV testing performed should not disqualify you from your dreams or from helping the less fortunate in the world. Today, treatments exist that can make an HIV infection nearly undetectable. People live long and healthy lives with HIV.
If you believe that you may be at risk for HIV, you should consider having HIV testing performed. Furthermore, you should speak to a doctor about your options. There are many great options for STD and HIV testing in your area.