Health: Although life expectancy has increased significantly since 1950, South Korea faces a number of important health-care issues. Foremost is the impact of environmental pollution and poor sanitation on an increasingly urbanized population. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, chronic diseases account for the majority of diseases in South Korea, a condition exacerbated by the health care system’s focus on treatment rather than prevention. The incidence of chronic disease in South Korea hovers around 24 percent. Approximately 33 percent of all adults smoke. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rate of prevalence at the end of 2003 was less than 0.1 percent. In 2001 central government expenditures on health care accounted for about 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Welfare: Responsibility for maintaining and promoting national welfare and health programs falls to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The present social welfare system administers the National Health Insurance System (NHIS), the National Pension Scheme, and a variety of other social welfare services such as programs for the disabled, the elderly, women, and children. Industrial injury compensation programs were begun in the early 1960s, and by 2000 they, along with unemployment insurance, were available to all workers, according to government sources. Health insurance programs have increased steadily in availability; in 2003, 30.7 million adult South Koreans were enrolled in the NHIS, as were 15.4 million dependents. A minimum wage, which is adjusted annually, was established in 1998, and in 2003 legislation authorized a five-day workweek. The incidence of work-related deaths and injuries in South Korea remains high by international standards.