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AIDS kills Pohang prostitution suspect

Authorities now racing to find the foreigners’ johns, contain spread

Apr 12,2019
An undocumented immigrant suspected of prostitution in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, died of AIDS on April 3, and authorities in the southeastern city are on high alert over the potential spread of the disease.

She was identified as a 40-year-old woman who worked at a massage parlor in Pohang. Due to the possibility that the woman could have been involved in prostitution, authorities are taking swift action to investigate where she was and who she was in touch with.

The woman contacted a counseling center for prostitutes in Gyeonggi on March 26, asking for help. She could barely speak, even in her own language, because of her condition. After learning that she was living in Pohang, the center helped her get medical attention at a hospital in the area. When her condition worsened, she was moved to a hospital in Seoul and died on April 3. Before her death, her blood was sent to the North Gyeongsang Government Public Institute of Health and Environment and tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The results came back on April 1.

Authorities of the Nam District Health Center in Pohang and the Korea Immigration Service are investigating the deceased woman’s movements and people she may have engaged in prostitution with. They found her studio apartment empty and a lease contract was nowhere to be found.

Authorities are concerned about the possibility that the woman could have been involved in prostitution, as her clients could spread the virus unknowingly. The health of those infected with HIV will deteriorate rapidly if they are not treated with antiretroviral drugs.

The Pohang Nambu Police Precinct is investigating customers of the massage parlor where the woman worked at. The Pohang Bukbu Police Precinct is looking into a report by a man on April 3. The man claimed that he saw a post on a social network platform written in a foreign language that was accompanied with a photo of a patient receiving treatment.

“Help an AIDS patient in Pohang,” read the post. “Please donate to a protection group for women so that she can be treated.”

The man recognized the woman in the picture and claimed that she looked like a woman that he saw in a massage parlor in Pohang. The post was uploaded by a protection group for women through a foreign social network account, but was since erased. In the post, a bank account for donations was uploaded. Police suspect that the woman was the AIDS patient who died in Seoul.

“In order to investigate the woman’s movements, we are looking for information in social network platforms,” said an official of the Pohang Bukbu Police Precinct.

According to her acquaintance, the woman worked in Busan and came to Pohang three months ago to work at a massage parlor. The parlor in question is registered as a business by a sole proprietor. Different from adult entertainment establishments, workers in businesses run by registered sole proprietors are not subject to periodical health inspections.

“Different from regular adult entertainment establishments, the massage parlor where the woman worked was not under the jurisdiction of the health authorities,” said an official of the Nam District Health Center. “That is why we were unable to find out before that she was a carrier of AIDS. Also, as the massage parlor where the woman worked at is denying being involved in prostitution we are finding it hard to determine whether the woman was involved in these activities.”

Prostitution is illegal in Korea but remains rampant across the country.

Health authorities are warning people who suspect they may have HIV to visit a medical facility and be tested immediately, assuring them that their identity will be kept confidential.

“The identity of AIDS carriers and people who are suspected to have AIDS is not open to public,” said a Pohang official. “So anyone who made contact [with the woman] should visit a clinic and be tested.”

AIDS is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with HIV, which interferes with the carrier’s immune system and increased the risk of developing common infections such as pneumonia. HIV is spread primarily through carrier’s bodily fluids through activities such as unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needle use.

BY JUNG MYUNG-SUK, BAEK KYUNG-SEO [jung.myungsuk@joongang.co.kr]


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