Joseph Woo (South Korea)
Hanvit Welfare Association
South Korea still has a long way to go to resolve issues relating to the health and welfare of people affected by Hansen's disease. Considering the sharp decline in their numbers, people affected by the disease count for nothing politically and the South Korean government has little interest in pursuing matters. But if the health minister was a person affected by the disease, he or she would listen carefully to the needs of this underprivileged and neglected sector of Korean society, and develop programs accordingly.
The current Hansen's disease law is too limited in scope to fully compensate for incidents resulting from past stigma and prejudice and to promote health and welfare now and in the future. The law needs to be amended in a way that meets the needs of those it is intended to help.
Sorok Island was once the destination of every person on the Korean peninsula diagnosed with Hansen's disease. This policy of segregation began when Korea was under Japanese occupation, and continued after liberation in 1945. Even after a cure was discovered, no real rehabilitation program was put in place. Only when a person affected by Hansen's disease becomes the director of Sorokdo National Hospital can we say that the needs of island residents have truly been met. That will be a day that goes down in Korean history!