50 Foreigners Get AIDS Annually

Aug. 15, 2006

About 50 foreigners in South Korea test positive for HIV annually, according to a report issued by the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) Monday.

The figure is about 8 percent of the 600 people in Korea who contract the virus each year. But the ratio of HIV carriers to the total population is much higher for foreigners _ the number of Koreans testing HIV positive is 1.4 per 100,000 people, while that of foreign patients is 11.1 per 100,000 people.

The problem is that many foreign HIV carriers are staying here illegally, and thus do not undergo medical checkups.

Foreigners who plan to stay in Korea doing entertainment work for more than 91 days are subject to HIV/AIDS checkups 72 hours after their entry, according to the law on AIDS prevention. But this is an exception, as other foreigners are not obliged to undergo the checkup.

Most of the 50 people are suspected of being illegal migrant workers. Experts say the actual number of foreign HIV carriers could be larger since many illegal workers shun checkups.

After the Ministry of Justice granted legal status to many illegally staying foreigners at the end of 2003, the number of foreign HIV carriers was reported as 153 in 2004, up from 59 a year before.

But the government does not gather statistics of foreign AIDS patients, citing conflict between Korea and the foreigners' homelands. ``We urge foreign patients to voluntarily leave the country. We do not collect statistics or trace how they got the disease to protect their human rights,'' a KCDC official said.

There is only one counseling center for foreign AIDS patients in Korea _ in Itaewon, Seoul.

The Korea Federation for HIV/AIDS Prevention planned to open AIDS centers for foreigners in Seoul and Ansan in Kyonggi Province next month with a 1 billion won government subsidy. But it failed to secure next year's budget, as the government has decided not to support foreign AIDS prevention projects.

Experts claim the nation should prepare AIDS prevention measures amid the growing number of foreigners here.

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