South Korean Soap Opera Aims To Reduce Discrimination, Stigma Surrounding HIV

May 04, 2007
A South Korean television soap opera that aims to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS by portraying the story of an eight-year-old, HIV-positive girl has been receiving top ratings in its time slot, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to the AP/Chronicle, the program’s audience has been steadily increasing since its premiere in March, and last week it reached 18.5% of television viewers during its time slot, according to AGB Nielsen Media Research.

In the show, which is called “Thank You,” the girl, Lee Bom, becomes HIV-positive through a blood transfusion. When villagers discover she is HIV-positive, they pressure her, her mother and her great-grandfather to leave the village out of fear they will contract the virus. The program’s producers have said that they aim to tell the “story of violence that rises from prejudice, discrimination and stereotype.”

According to Kim Hoon-soo, executive director of the Korea Confederation for HIV/AIDS Prevention, knowledge about HIV/AIDS in the country has increased, but “discrimination and prejudice” against people living with the disease is “still very strong and widespread.” Nam Jeong-gu, a researcher at South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the program “will help greatly to improve the public’s perception of the disease.”

Many South Koreans are reluctant to receive an HIV test because of the stigma surrounding the virus, the AP/Chronicle reports. A 2005 survey conducted among 2,022 South Koreans found that 52% of respondents would not send their children to school if another student was known to be HIV-positive. The survey also found that 40% of respondents said that HIV-positive people should be quarantined in special facilities. About 3,891 South Koreans are HIV-positive, according to government statistics. According to United Nations estimates, the number could be as high as 13,000. The country in 2006 recorded 751 new HIV cases, up from 327 new cases in 2001, the AP/Chronicle reports (Bo-Mi, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/2).


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