Recommendations on HIV/AIDS Policies Concerning Migrants

khap | 2005.09.23 02:52

Since the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was first detected in 1985 in Korea, it was considered an infection that was communicated from abroad. As a consequence, the government imposed measures to prevent HIV/AIDS from crossing the border, including the testing of fishermen and entertainers around the gijichon (camptown around US military bases). As the Korean government considered HIV/AIDS a disease that was spread by foreigners, they set up strong measures such as forced deportation of migrants who are found HIV positive or restriction of the entry of foreigners with HIV/AIDS.

However, HIV/AIDS is not anymore a problem only for foreigners but has become a concern for the whole Korean society. In 2002, Korea recorded 400 new HIV cases, compared to 124 cases in 1997. As of March 2005, there are more than 3,000 officially reported cases of HIV/AIDS. This means that on average, 1.7 people are found infected by the disease every day. Among the identified cases, only a small portion transmitted the disease from abroad, through sexual relations or blood transfusion. The majority of them were infected through various domestic channels including sexual relations between domestic nationals, blood transfusion, and mother to child transmission. Moreover, the actual number of infected people is thought to be much higher, with UNAIDS estimates of approximately 8,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. It is thus evident that the source of infection can be found in both the foreign population and within the local Korean population.

Moreover, the international community has continuously emphasized that HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted through everyday interactions (air, food, water, etc.) between people and that a person with HIV/AIDS does not pose a serious threat to the general public health by staying in a country. In addition, restrictions such as denying entry or deporting people with HIV/AIDS do not effectively accomplish the policy objective of protecting national public health. For example, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) issued a joint statement in 2004 ("UNAIDS/IOM Statement on HIV/AIDS-Related Travel Restrictions) recommending effective policies towards migrants and travelers who carry the HIV/AIDS virus.

For the past twenty years, the international community has pointed to the fact that the biggest obstacle in preventing HIV infection and assisting patients with AIDS is the social stigma and discrimination prevalent in society. In many countries, the fear of discrimination often results in people hiding their illness or even preventing people from getting tested and receiving the necessary medical treatment. In extreme cases, societies even deny the existence of HIV/AIDS completely in their community.

It has been proven over the years that the most effective and sustainable approach in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS is to take the policy of considering the human rights of the infected, based on their voluntary participation. It is therefore critical for the Korean society to take a holistic approach in dealing with HIV/AIDS that protects the human rights of people who are infected and focuses on prevention at the same time.

Therefore, the parties participating in this recommendation urge not only the Korean government officials but also politicians, communities, leaders, the media, and the general public to consider the following recommendations.

1. Forced deportation policy of migrants with HIV/AIDS should be reconsidered

To carry out a national-level prevention measure against HIV/AIDS, the system should be reformed in a way that those infected with the disease are not treated differently or disadvantaged based on their nationality. Currently, all the migrants who are found infected with HIV/AIDS are forcefully deported from the country. This is a policy that increases the public stigma against people with HIV/AIDS and reduces voluntary participation in HIV tests of migrants. Also, the policies of mandatory HIV testing and forced deportation of migrants leads to further misconception among Korean nationals of HIV as a foreign disease, and could also result in reducing their perceptions of personal risk and increasing discrimination towards foreign nationals.

Moreover, the majority of HIV infected people do not harbour any evident signs of AIDS, and can contribute to the society through normal economic and social activities. With access to appropriate HIV counselling, support groups, and healthcare services, people with HIV can live a safer and more productive life. Currently, policies exclude people infected with HIV/AIDS from the society, citing reasons of insufficient financial and human resources due to health services and social support. If this policy continues, patients will find it harder to acquire financial resources to pay for medical treatment. It also takes away the prospect of patients contributing to society through tax payment and production activities. Thus this policy should be reconsidered.

2. Current service of voluntary and anonymous HIV counseling and testing should be expanded and anonymous medical treatment of HIV patients should also be seriously considered.

The core of HIV/AIDS prevention policy is to decrease the danger of infection by implementing appropriate measures such as promoting safe sex and providing sufficient information on prevention. It is also important to provide HIV tests, promptly inform the confirmation, provide medical services, and prevent the spread of HIV when it is confirmed. It is thus important to provide and extend Voluntary and Anonymous Counseling, Testing, and Treatment. Through this, patients will be able to check their condition more accurately and continue their treatment, self-management, and receive information on the prevention of the spread of HIV.

The policy of mandatory HIV testing of certain migrant population may result in further discrimination towards migrants in our country by reproducing social discrimination, fear, and branding. HIV testing should always be done voluntarily and sufficient counseling should be provided prior to the testing. Testing results should be provided when the patient is ready and directly to the patient from the medical staff under full confidentiality. Also, counseling should be provided on the basis of post-testing guidelines. The system should also be strengthened so that testing results are not disclosed to the public or provided to others.

Appropriate counseling, voluntary and anonymous testing, and treatment of HIV is the most effective measure in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing effective treatment.

3. Migrants with HIV/AIDS should be provided with counseling services, emergency treatment, and other health services.

Right to health is a fundamental human right, and access to available medical service for migrants with HIV/AIDS is also an important basic right. The Korean government should take a humanitarian approach in dealing with migrants who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, and provide them with sufficient medical service.

4. More efforts should be put on raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among Koreans and foreigners alike. Also, the government, media, and general public should work together in eliminating social stigma and discrimination against those affected by HIV/AIDS.

There is a dire need for a continuous nation-wide campaign on the prevention and basic information on HIV/AIDS to eliminate the currently prevalent social stigma and discrimination. Taking into consideration that there is an increasing migrant population working and living in the Korean society, more information should be made available for the migrant population in their own languages, taking their cultural and religious background into consideration. This should also be the case for Koreans traveling abroad.

We hope that the Korean government would favorably consider these recommendations and respond by taking a humanitarian and moral approach on foreigners inflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Lastly, the HIV/AIDS problem cannot be solved solely by a country’s government but needs the interest and participation of the general public, leaders of various fields such as politics, media, economics, religion, culture, and also the cooperation between and among states. We hope people from all areas of society take interest in AIDS and participate in preventing the spread of the disease while continuing their interest and support for HIV/AIDS patients. The parties participating in this recommendation declare to do our best in supporting these efforts.

2005. 5.

Korean Anti-AIDS Federation, Inc.
UNDP Korea
International Organization for Migration, Seoul Office
Korea UNAIDS Information Support Centre
UNAIDS (Jaoint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS)
Amnesty International, Korea
Korean Society for Migrant Worker’s Health
Joint Commission on Migrant Workers in Korea (together with 38 member organisations)
Network for Migrants’ Rights (together with 12 member organisations)

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