Korean J Med Hist.  2016 Aug;25(2):167-203. 10.13081/kjmh.2016.25.167.

A Social History of Ascariasis in the 1960s Korea: From a Norm to a Shameful Disease

Affiliations
  • 1Department of the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities, College of Medicine, Seoul National University, Korea.
  • 2Department of the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities, College of Medicine, Seoul National University, Korea. okim9496@snu.ac.kr

Abstract

Until the 1950s, Ascaris was regarded as an essential part of life which controls every aspect of human physiology among Koreans. Therefore, Ascaris should not be removed from human body. Efforts from medical professionals and the Korean government officials who wished to push forward the parasite control program, had to constantly contest with this perception of Ascaris among ordinary Koreans. In 1966, the 'Parasitic Disease Prevention Act' was promulgated and 'the Korean Association for Parasite Eradication (KAPE)' established in Korea. From the 1970s, Korea mobilized 15 million people each year to achieve the eradication goal. Such mass mobilization could not be possible without public awareness on necessity of parasite eradication. Until the early 1960s, however, Korean people were not sympathetic to the needs of eradication of parasites, especially that of Ascaris. Then, what changed the social perception towards Ascaris during the 1960s? What contributing factors allowed the mass mobilization and public involvement for that campaign? Employing newspaper articles and periodicals, this paper analyzes how social perception on Ascariasis changed during the 1960s, when the 'Parasitic Disease Prevention Act' was established. During the 1960s, Ascariasis became a shameful disease for Koreans. A series of events made Ascariasis more visible and shameful to Koreans. First event happened with Korean miners who were dispatched to Germany in 1963. When the miners turned out to have been infected with intestinal parasites, they were prohibited from work at the mines by the authorities in Germany and quarantined for several weeks. This humiliating experience of Korean expatriate people having bodies swarmed with parasites became a national shame to Koreans. The parasite infected bodies of Korean workers were revealed to the World through German newspapers. Second event happened when a child died of intestinal obstruction due to Ascariasis. The doctor retrieved 1,063 Ascaris from the bowel of the 9 year-old girl, and the photo of the 1,063 worms was published in several newspapers. It was a shocking visualization of Ascariasis in Korean society. Through these visualizations of Ascariasis, the Korean society began to perceive Ascariasis as a shame of the nation as well as that of an individual.

Keyword

Korea Parasite Eradication Program; Ascariasis; Shame; Social Perception; Social History
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