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AIDS rate among young people has doubled

Oct 18,2017
Recent news of a 15-year-old girl diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has brought attention to HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) rates among minors.

“At a time when people are engaging in sexual conduct at a younger age and juvenile prostitution is not decreasing, the lack of proper sex education is at fault for the increase in AIDS,” said Assemblyman Sung Il-jong of the Liberty Korea Party on Oct. 12 at a government-run Health and Welfare Committee convention in Yeouido, western Seoul.

According to data by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of AIDS cases worldwide fell from 310,000 to 200,000 over a 14-year period, while the number of cases in South Korea rose from 219 to 1,062 over the past ten years.

“Foreign countries were able to see a decrease in AIDS cases because they already had many patients with AIDS and widespread treatment,” said Lee Jae-cob of the infectious disease department at Kangnam Sacred Heart Hospital. “It’s a relief that the global AIDS population did not sharply increase, but the increase in the younger population raises concerns.”

Lee added that the current sex education curriculum “concentrates mostly on pregnancy prevention,” adding, “we need to change the negative view of sexual conduct by minors that many schools and parents have, who treat it as a major taboo.”

The number of minors diagnosed with AIDS increased from 13 to 36 over ten years, while the number of AIDS cases among people in their twenties increased from 158 to 360. Since the population of South Korea also grew from 48.7 million to 51.2 million over the same period, this means the number of AIDS cases per 100,000 went from 0.3 to 0.7.

According to research by Park Ju-hyun, an assistant professor at the Medical School of Seoul National University, 57.7 percent of women in their 20s started using contraceptives after their first sexual interaction, while the percentage of men using condoms after their first time was 46 percent.

The recent prostitution case of the 15-year-old girl is already the 569th case of prostitution mediated using a chatting app that has been investigated by the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial police since last year, compared to 108 the year before.

“Minors who have no knowledge of AIDS or other STDs are the most vulnerable to infection,” said Park, “and might unintentionally spread it to others.”

According to Sung, “To prevent AIDS, the Health and Welfare Committee and the local government have the authority to carry out epidemiologic investigations on those with AIDS or those who are suspected of having AIDS.”

Claiming that failure to carry out these investigations would constitute “neglect of duty,” the assemblyman pressed the institutions to take action.

BY JUNG JONG-HOON [enational@joongang.co.kr]