PRESS RELEASE: Study finds high stigma and discrimination towards Korean people living with HIV

SEOUL/BANGKOK, June 22 2017—More than 30 years since the start of the HIV epidemic in the Republic of Korea, a new survey found people living with HIV reported facing high levels of stigma and discrimination. The Korean People Living with HIV Stigma Index is the first peer-led research in the country to detect and measure how people living with HIV experience stigma and discrimination.
The Korean Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (KNP+) coordinated the research with support from UNAIDS and other partners and individuals.

“For too long the voices of people living with HIV have been absent in policy making,” said Son Mun Soo, President, KNP+. “This study documents their experiences and shows that the government, employers, health-care workers and communities must do much more to guarantee the rights of people living with HIV. A comprehensive anti-discrimination law must be enacted to protect their rights.”

Health-care settings should be among the safest spaces for people living with HIV, where a patient’s right to privacy, confidentiality and autonomous decision-making are guaranteed. UNAIDS and the World Health Organization strongly recommend that HIV testing only be undertaken with a person’s informed consent. However, the Stigma Index survey found that 62% of people questioned reported that they were tested without their knowledge. This is high compared to other countries in Asia, which have conducted similar peer-led surveys. In Viet Nam, 13% of people living with HIV reported similar experiences and in Nepal the figure was 9%. Seventeen percent of people surveyed in the Republic of Korea said their status was disclosed by medical staff to others without their consent. Almost a third of respondents reported avoiding going to the local clinic when needed in the last 12 months.

“Health-care settings should be stigma-free environments to ensure people living with HIV not only stay healthy, but their loved ones and community are also protected from HIV,” said Steve Kraus, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. “It is imperative that we have protective laws and empowered communities.”

The study found that while the general level of education of survey respondents was slightly higher than that of the general population, their employment was more precarious. Only 43% of respondents were full or part-time employees and 42% were living with less than the Republic of Korea’s minimum household income. About 1 in 10 respondents who were full- or part-time employees said they had disclosed their HIV status to their employer and about half reported discriminatory reactions.

The survey found that while most respondents disclosed their HIV status to their families out of a sense of obligation, almost 40% reported isolating themselves from loved ones because of their status. Self-stigma was also high among respondents with 75% feeling self-blame and more than a third experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The People Living with HIV Stigma Index is a global tool supported by the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and UNAIDS.  It has been implemented in more than 90 countries globally since 2008. More than 100 people participated in the survey in the Republic of Korea, which was conducted from March to June 2016.

As the first research of its kind into stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, The Korean People Living with HIV Stigma Index is a positive step forward in ensuring the rights and needs of people living with HIV are protected and met. The study calls for more research on how to strengthen anti-discrimination protections in the workplace and training for health-care providers which emphasizes patients’ rights, as well as strong measures and penalties to prevent patient privacy violations.

According to Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 13,581 cumulative reported cases of HIV infections in the Republic of Korea in 2016, a 77% increase since 2010.

Unknown Loves: Initial findings from the people living with HIV Stigma Index in South Korea




HIV/AIDS Human Rights Solidarity Nanuri+| Seo Bokyeong | tel. +82 010 3232 2282 |

UNAIDS Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok) | Saya Oka | tel. +66 2 680 4128 |

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