A recent Washington Post column by Stephen Barr and a subsequent editorial about Ukraine Peace Corps volunteer Jeremiah Johnson’s removal from his post after testing positive for HIV has sparked discussion and Congressional interest regarding the Peace Corps’ policy related to volunteers who are HIV positive.
Ukrainian law (and that of many other host countries) requires proof that volunteers are not HIV positive to obtain visas, residency permits and other official documents required for volunteer service. The Peace Corps has a long-standing policy of not automatically excluding applicants who are HIV positive but rather to treat each HIV positive applicant as an individual case and consider placement in a location where reasonable medical care is available.
This past week NPCA received this message from Burkina Faso RPCV Rebecca Coulborn:
Some of you may have read the recent story about Jeremiah Johnson who was medically separated from the Peace Corps for testing HIV positive. Peace Corps has stated that Jeremiah Johnson is the first volunteer to test positive for HIV and want to return to his post. Eight years ago I tested positive for HIV and was medically separated from the Peace Corps. I wanted to return to Burkina Faso and finish my service but was told that this was not a possibility. I believe this is the result of antiquated policies from the 80's based on fear and prejudice. If you test positive for TB or contract malaria you receive treatment, but if you test positive for HIV you are sent home. I love the Peace Corps, but to date, eight years later, receiving my diagnosis still pales in comparison to being sent home for testing positive. Peace Corps can do better than this! We, as Americans, can do better than this!
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca Shore from the ACLU and Senator Chris Dodd’s Foreign Policy Advisor and other staff members. (Chris Dodd, btw, is an RPCV and Chairman of the Subcommittee for Peace Corps.)
Senator Dodd and the ACLU are interested in HEARING FROM RPCV's who:
a) tested positive for HIV or hepatitis, and/or
b) tested positive for TB, and/or
c) contracted malaria.
If this applies to you, I would greatly appreciate it if you would contact Rebecca Shore at the ACLU. Her phone number is 212-549-2605 and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
With great appreciation,
Rebecca Coulborn, RPCV Burkina Faso 2000-2001