Update: October 27th
The 26 year-old Korean taxi driver arrested in March was found guilty earlier this month under South Korea’s public health law for having unprotected sex without disclosure and has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Original post: 16th March
The arrest of an HIV-positive taxi driver in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province last week – originally for “habitually stealing women’s underwear” but now charged under public health law for having unprotected sex without disclosure with at least ten women – has resulted in a resurgence of panic around criminal HIV transmission in South Korea, and calls for HIV-specific criminal laws.
The case was first reported in English on March 13th in the Korea Times.
An AIDS patient in his 20s has had sex with dozens of women in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, over the last six years, police have revealed. The Jecheon Police Station said Friday that the patient, identified as Chun, 27, had sexual relationships with waitresses and drunken passengers while working as a taxi driver since 2003.
More details emerged on March 14th at Donga.com.
Police said he neither told his sex partners of his infection nor used contraceptives. A police search of his house found packets of medicine along with women’s underwear. Police grilled Jeon on what the medicine was for and he confessed to being HIV-positive. Police sought an arrest warrant for him yesterday for violating an AIDS prevention law and began tracking the women who had sex with him.
On March 15th, the Korea Times reported that the local sexual health clinic had been flooded with requests for HIV testing following reports of the man’s arrest.
According to the regional office, 61 people have undergone HIV tests, about 12 times the usual figure, since the arrest of 27-year-old cab driver Jeon, Friday. The official said no one was yet found to have the virus, but it will forward test samples to a higher institute for close examination.
On a positive note, public health officials are being extremely responsible and informing the public that the risk of transmission from a single act of unprotected sex is low, particularly since the man is on effective treatment.
According to health authorities, however, chances are low that his sex partners were infected with the deadly virus. Since he was put under monitoring, he has got counseling and medical checkups 30 times and taken regular medication. This means he is as healthy as an ordinary person, a source at the disease control center said. (Donga.com)
However, experts said the likelihood of catching HIV from unprotected sexual activity with someone who is HIV-positive is a mere 0.5 percent. “Since Jeon had been taking drugs to control the virus, the odds could be even lower,” a health expert said. (Korea Times, 15/3/09)
Nevertheless, according to Donga.com.
Domestic law only prohibits those who are HIV-positive from working at entertainment establishments that require regular medical checkups of their employees. Calls are rising for authorities to draw up countermeasures to control the jobs and private lives of HIV-positive people.
And a Donga.com editorial on March 16th appears to support these calls.
The news of an HIV-infected taxi driver who had sex with scores of women has rocked the nation. Medical Web sites are being bombarded with inquiries about AIDS symptoms and applications for the HIV test have jumped ten-fold. Generally, HIV/AIDS patients avoid contact with people because contracting the disease is lethal for their weakened immune system. If a HIV-positive person attempts to purposely spread the disease, however, there is no way to block him or her from doing so. In the wake of the news, calls are rising that the 1987 AIDS prevention law is ineffective to stem the spread of the deadly disease. The country’s AIDS control and prevention system should be urgently revamped.
Update: March 16th, 5pm: An editorial today in the Korea Times blames the public health authorities rather than the individual himself.
It goes without saying that prevention is the best way of containing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Therefore, the government and the health authorities should establish a firm preventive system before it is too late.