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Move to make HIV Tests mandatory For Soldiers In Northeast

As part of efforts to prevent the spread of HIV in the three armed services, particularly the army, the Indian armed forces plan to make HIV tests mandatory // for all its personnel serving in the northeast.

A proposal to test all soldiers going to the insurgency-affected northeast as well as those returning from the region is awaiting clearance from the government, said Vice Admiral V.K. Singh, director general of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS).

The AFMS is also awaiting approval for a proposal to create a DNA database of all armed forces personnel and to introduce mandatory HIV tests for all new recruits to the army, navy and air force.

Singh told a news conference here Saturday that all "full blown cases of AIDS" in the armed forces would be removed from service even though they would continue to get medical treatment and pension benefits.

According to a reliable estimate, some 100 soldiers have been "boarded out" or removed from service after developing "full blown AIDS" in the past two years.

Currently, all personnel sent to join UN peacekeeping missions are tested for HIV. India is one of the largest contributors of military troops and policemen for UN peacekeeping missions.

Manipur and Nagaland, two states in the northeast that are home to large Indian Army contingents, have been hit hard by the HIV virus. There are reports of soldiers serving in these states being affected by the virus.

The proposal to test all soldiers being sent to the northeast, as well as those returning from the region, has already been cleared by the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Referring to the proposal to introduce mandatory HIV tests for all new recruits, Singh said: "This is awaiting government clearance."

Singh said the proposal to create DNA profiles of armed forces personnel, once cleared by the government, would be implemented by three special centres set up across the country.

Other officials indicated that this database would facilitate the identification of soldiers killed in bomb attacks in insurgency-affected areas like the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

According to official figures, 0.028 percent of personnel of the three services have been infected by HIV. The strength of the army alone is 1.2 million.

Singh also said a final decision on the controversial issue of whether army nurses would be stripped of their uniforms would be taken by a committee set up by the army chief.

"The committee will make a decision in keeping with the Supreme Court order in this matter," he said. "Its decision will be final and no retaliation will be tolerated."

The army nurses have been up in arms over reports about a move to strip them of their uniforms and military ranks.

--IANS
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