Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Korea Herald on HIV tests for English teachers

The Korea Herald published an article the other day titled "Controversy persists over HIV test for English teachers." The most important part of the article is this section:
This policy, introduced in 2007 after complaints from locals over “dangerous law-breaking foreigners,” including English teachers, may come to an end soon, as the government is considering a recent recommendation by the country’s human rights panel to do away with it.

“The Justice Ministry is collecting opinions from relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Welfare to decide whether to accept the recommendation,” it said in response to an inquiry by The Korea Herald.

A recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea is not legally binding, but the government must decide whether to accept it within 90 days. In this case, the deadline is Dec. 7.
Hmmm. While it's good to know when the deadline is, December 7 [or the 8th, in Asia] isn't a day in history which featured Westerners being particularly well-treated in Asia.

 Monument to Asia Rising...

...December 8, 1941.
(This is what replaced Horace Underwood's statue at Yonsei University; it now stands in the garden of Yonsei's museum. Hat tip to JiHoon for showing me this.

But back to the article:
"We made health checks mandatory for some foreigners through a revision of the AIDS Prevention Act in 2007 after some crimes by foreign language instructors and illegal drug use led to social problems," an official from the Justice Ministry said.
And I was just voted president of the United States. Seriously? How about: "We made health checks for HIV and drugs mandatory for some foreigners through a policy memo which, when challenged, we said was perfectly legal but meanwhile were quietly changing to an enforcement ordinance / regulation which was passed on April 3, 2009, almost a year and a half after we began testing teachers" (first result here; check cache for non-hwp version). The E-2 tests were not enforced by a revision of the AIDS Prevention Act.
"Even if we scrap the mandatory HIV testing, many are still subject to the testing according to the AIDS Prevention Act by the health ministry or Private Institute Management Act by the Education Ministry," the official said. "And we don’t send back foreigners or don’t refuse to issue alien cards when they are proven HIV-positive."
Again, there's nothing connecting E-2 visa-holders to the Aids Prevention Act, As for the Private Institute Management Act, have a look here. You won't see anything about HIV tests. Drug tests are mandated, yes, but not HIV tests. But hey, that's just two things completely wrong. I'm sure we can take the "And we don’t send back foreigners or don’t refuse to issue alien cards when they are proven HIV-positive" at face value.
In 2009, Lisa Griffin from New Zealand, who was then an English teacher at an Ulsan-based elementary school, filed a petition to the NHRCK as well as to the UN International Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination after her school refused to renew her contract over her refusal to submit an HIV test result.

The UN committee ruled last year that HIV testing of teachers on E-2 visas is racial discrimination, saying the policy is not “justified on public health or any other grounds.” The committee urged the Korean government to compensate her for moral and material damages.

In September, the NHRCK also backed the UN decision, calling it "stigmatizing" and "discriminatory."
This muddles the chronology. Yes, a petition was filed to the NHRCK - which rejected it. A petition was also filed to the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board - which rejected it. The only reason it could be taken to CERD was because these "Local [or domestic] Remedies" failed to provide redress. The NHRCK only took up the case after CERD ruled in Griffin's favor.

Shall we pass by the assertion that "Without the HIV testing, there is no way to screen teachers from abroad and keep our children safe"? Like shooting fish in a barrel, so let's. Moving on:
But Lee Kyung-ja, who heads the parents’ rights group Student First, said that foreign teachers and Korean teachers alike should go through the HIV testing. "It is worrisome that more and more young people contract HIV-AIDS these days and we don’t know where they get it from," Lee said. "To ensure children’s health, all teachers -- whether they are foreign or local -- should prove that they are HIV-free."
To her question about where they get it from: having sex with someone who has HIV or sharing needles. Mind you, the drug arrest reports for foreign teachers tend to reveal busts for marijuana or perhaps ecstasy - not the kind of thing you inject intravenously. The article includes these statistics:
According to government data, the cumulative number of HIV and AIDS patients was 10,502 through last year, since the first case surfaced in 1985, with 92.7 percent of the patients being male. There were 1,152 newly registered cases last year, with 33.3 percent of them being in their 20s. Among them, 1,018 were Korean.
There are more statistics here (since 1985).
[T]he compulsory HIV testing of certain groups will only reinforce long-held stigmas and fear surrounding HIV and AIDS in the country, alienating and excluding people living with the disease, another expert said.

Patients living with HIV and AIDS are often subject to discrimination and have trouble accessing health care facilities, traveling and seeking employment.

"The government’s health polices for preventing HIV-AIDS come from ignorance," said Son Moon-soo, who heads an association of HIV and AIDS patients called KNP+. "The outdated measures create the wrong perception that HIV-AIDS is a foreign disease which foreigners brought into the country." [...]

"Rather than implementing discriminatory policies against foreigners, there should be more education on safe sex and how HIV-AIDS is transmitted and prevented to fight the disease," Son said.
As has been noted before, the stigma in Korea against HIV-AIDS is pervasive and has stark consequences for those who have been infected. In fact, the stigma is deadlier than the disease.


Ben said...

"Without the HIV testing, there is no way to screen teachers from abroad and keep our children safe"

It's easy enough to rebut, but it is worth emphasizing how this view shows how problematic the mandatory testing for foreign teachers approach is from a public health policy perspective. It creates a false sense of security by reinforcing the misplaced idea that only foreigners are at risk for infection and deprives Korean citizens of accurate information on how to protect themselves.

That a "mother of two teenagers" (as the article describes her) thinks the way to protect her teenagers from being infected with HIV is to test their foreign English teacher illustrates the point made by the NHRCK: the foreign teacher testing program "misleads the general public to think that they are safe from the disease as long as it is limited to a small group of people. This kind of misperception hardly finds its place in any desired public health policies."

Ben said...

Seoul National University Professor of International Law Lee Jae-Min weighs in with a consideration of the mandatory in-country HIV testing program and the reputation damage it's doing to the country. Closes with: "the recommendation is clear and straightforward. It is sad that Korea has been dragging its feet in amending this anachronistic law and practice."

Lee Jae-min, "The UN-condemned mandatory medical testing," Korea Herald, Nov. 29, 2016.