The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday announced it will be expanding eligibility for the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps to include people who have chronic hepatitis B and HIV, individuals with these conditions having been previously disqualified.
“The U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), publicly announced today that it is changing its medical standards to accept future applicants living with chronic hepatitis B and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV),” HHS said in a statement.
The agency cited medical advancements that have made chronic hepatitis B and HIV manageable conditions comparable to hypertension.
This change in application standards goes into effect beginning on Dec. 1.
The USPHS Commissioned Corps is a branch of more than 6,000 uniformed service members who specialize in public health and national safety. Commissioned USPHS officers include physicians, nurses, dentists, dieticians and therapists.
Members are often deployed to public health crises both domestically and abroad such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Maria. Many members work as staff at Indian Health Service facilities as well as for the Bureau of Prisons.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, commissioned officers were deployed in the U.S. to assist in responding to the outbreak, though stakeholders and lawmakers were critical of the number of officers who were utilized and called for the Commissioned Corps to be fully deployed.
Under USPHS policy, potential service members must be ready for deployment and meet medical standards. Applicants are deemed ineligible if they have a medical condition which “prevents him/her from being deployed to an austere and/or stressful environment, or if the condition prevents the officer from engaging in the physical activities associated with deployments to austere and/or stressful environments.”
Disqualifying conditions include untreated chronic anemia, inadequately controlled diabetes, a history of bronchial asthma as an adult, joint conditions which limit range of movement and immunologic disorders which may put an individual at a higher risk of infections.
As HHS noted, this change coincides with World AIDS Day.
“As we recognize World AIDS Day and the progress made, I am honored to be a part of a change much bigger than our service,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine. “By changing our medical accession standards to reflect the latest evidence, we show the world that we are putting science first.”