In South Korea, the stigma of HIV/AIDS is a heavy burden to carry. One HIV-positive exchange student from the Philippines learned this first-hand in 2011 when his university asked him to submit to a health check that included a test for the virus.

Gabriel Morales* says that Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, located in southwest South Korea, responded to his positive test result by demanding he return home.

When he refused, the university removed him from his dorm to separate accommodation and insisted he continue his research internship in a practically empty lab away from his classmates.

‘It was really discouraging and deprived me of the real experience of that internship programme,’ says Morales.‘I had to make up some excuse to newly met friends about why I was moving out. At the dorm, they notified me in the morning and escorted me out in the evening. I didn’t have time to make up a credible story for my roommate so I ended up telling him everything.’

Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS being contagious through everyday contact are so heavily ingrained in South Korea that even some medical professionals reportedly refuse to treat patients with the virus.

The virus is also seen to be asso­ciated with prostitution, homosexuality and drug use, all of which are widely considered ‘immoral lifestyles’ in South Korea.

John Power

*name changed