HIV in the militaryOver the last five years, military authorities have discovered 88 new servicemen who were HIV positive when they entered boot camp for the two-year mandatory service. This happened because only 10 percent of new servicemen are tested for HIV.
The military is in no shortage of public criticism, including allegations over unnecessary violence leading to the suicides of low-level servicemen. And now here is yet another reason for South Korean parents to distrust the military to which they have to send their sons for two years - even HIV-positive people are conscripted.
The Military Manpower Administration said the oversight occurred as it had only one analyzer for HIV testing due to budget shortages. Each analyzer costs 100 million won ($82,000). But this is an inadequate excuse.
HIV is a highly infectious virus, and the military is a place where many people live side by side and participate in intense physical activities. So it is common sense that all new servicemen must be tested.
The Defense Ministry has repeatedly pledged to create a “strong military,” but look at its disregard toward the potential hazards facing young servicemen.
The Military Manpower Administration has to secure the budget to buy the equipment at any cost, no matter what. It should at least have tried to publicly raise the issue.
Consider this. The military’s entire annual budget is a whopping 28 trillion won, but 90 percent of new conscripts cannot be tested for HIV because the military says it can’t afford it.
The military administration is improving. It has outsourced personality tests to private-sector hospitals, adopted new, cutting-edge physical testing equipment and is screening out the mentally ill based on their prior records.
But this is no time for the military to sit back. Even if HIV-positive conscripts are in boot camp for only two weeks, what parents would ever allow their son to live and be trained with them 24/7?
It is important to beef up our military capabilities and improve our defense installations, but we still need to do our best to prevent HIV-infected conscripts from entering the military.