Friday, January 30, 2015

Stigma prevents hero's welcome for Ebola medics

A column in the Chosun Ilbo criticized the lack of hero's welcome given to the first group of nine Korean medical workers who returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone for the last month. This is contrasted with America's response, where such workers were lauded as heroes by President Obama and selected as Person of the Year 2014 by Time Magazine. As is pointed out in the column, however,
Korea's medical workers were not just denied a hero's welcome -- they had to return home quietly due to fears that they and their family members would be treated as pariahs, shunned by a panic-stricken public, and asked for their identities not to be disclosed.
In fact, photos in articles about the doctors leaving for Africa in mid-December only show the doctors from behind. At first thought, this is very reminiscent of Korean attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS - see here, for example. But the more I think about it, I can think of other such examples, such as the way in which the children of people who were pro-North Korea were denied government jobs and other opportunities before the 1990s, or the way in which no student in school wants to associate with a child targeted as a "wangtta," fearing being tainted by the association, often leading to total isolation*, or - in a more humorous instance - the blogger Lost Nomad years ago wrote about how he could always get a great parking spot in his apartment building because no one wanted to park next to a particular, "dirty" car. Such stigma, and fear of "guilt by association," is troubling, to be sure.

* Years ago a student I got along well with one year became a wangtta the next year for several months, and though I talked to her previous and current home room teachers about the situation, and they knew who was responsible, they didn't seem to be able to do anything about it. It was heartbreaking to see the way in which she changed from a bubbly and outgoing to withdrawn and sullen.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Its interesting that the disappointing World Cup team was met with angry fans throwing toffee but Ebola fighting heroes were ignored.

As if its more important to not embarass Korea internationally, rather than save strangers lives internationally.