Archive for the ‘Health care’ Category

German NGO establishing school for deaf

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

According to the Associated Press:

In a country with zero kindergartens specifically for the deaf, Robert Grund wants to help establish the first — just a small suite of rooms for perhaps a couple dozen kids, in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, a city of roughly 2.5 million.

It’s a small step, but Grund, the Pyongyang representative of the World Federation of the Deaf and the city’s only full-time deaf foreign resident, sees it as part of a larger push to end isolation for the deaf here by helping them be heard, involved and empowered in projects about them.

He appears to be making progress.

Over the past few years, North Korean officials have grown more receptive to helping the disabled. Events have become more frequent and get a higher profile in the state-run media, while more cultural exchanges are being allowed abroad. Recent media stories played up a new all-deaf soccer team. The North last month held high-profile events to mark Disabled Persons Day.

The kindergarten project is also coming together.

Grund says officials have approved a location for the facility, several rooms in a now under-used nursery building, and appear keen on opening it in time for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling party on Oct. 10.

The kindergarten itself will be wholly paid for and funded by TOGETHER-Hamhung, a German non-profit Disabled Persons Organization.

“Nobody knows how many kids will come,” Grund said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “If necessary, we can assign more rooms for children.”

The plan is to accept children from infancy on up until they are old enough to attend regular deaf schools. Grund hopes access will be based solely on need, but he is not sure whether the government will instead decide who gets to go.

“From our point of view, every deaf child has access,” he said. “Since this country strongly advertises the right of children to be in nurseries and kindergartens, it is probably not so much a matter of choosing, but a matter of information and spreading the word so that the families get to know the new option and dare to bring their deaf child, overcoming the traditional hiding in the family.”


To be deaf in North Korea is to endure a level of isolation that is hard to imagine.

For most of his childhood, Ri Jong Hyok was a shut in.

While his father went out to do construction work, he stayed at home in Pyongyang helping his mother make tofu. He didn’t go to school. He had no friends and, with no one to teach him sign language, essentially no way to communicate with them even if he did.

“I had never seen sign language before I came here,” Ri told the AP through a sign language interpreter during a visit to the country’s largest school for the deaf, in Songchon, outside of Pyongyang, last year.

Ri is lucky to have found the school.

He wants to be a barber, and the school has a classroom where the students practice cutting each other’s hair, with barber’s chairs and pictures of various hairstyles on the walls. With few other trades open to the deaf, the most common jobs are barber or tailor for men, and hairstylist or seamstress for women.

Of the eight schools for older deaf children in North Korea, none are located in Pyongyang, though statistically the deaf population in a city the same size in a developing country would likely be in the tens of thousands.

There are roughly 300,000 deaf people in all of North Korea, according to official estimates.

But while about 10-20 percent of deaf children in developing countries are able to study in deaf schools, according to the World Federation of the Deaf, that rate is just 2 percent in North Korea, said an aid worker who spoke on condition of anonymity because of worries that ongoing projects might be hurt.

North Korean officials dispute that estimate.

Ro Kyong Su, director of the Korean Economic and Cultural Center for the Deaf and Blind, said mainstream public schools or other special-needs facilities currently accommodate most deaf or hearing-impaired students. By his calculations, there are about 6,000 school-age deaf children who need to be in schools that are specifically for the deaf. He said about half already are, and the number is rising.

“The other half will soon be able to go to school. We aren’t looking at a five-year or 10-year plan. It will be much sooner than that,” he said.

Officials involved in projects for the deaf acknowledge an outdated grasp of the size of the deaf community.

A major problem continues to be getting access to and diagnosing pre-school children, many of whom are shut in at home with families who have little awareness of hearing disabilities or the resources that might be available to them.

The government’s figures are also based on an old, somewhat ambiguous survey. Underreporting of disabilities is common, both because of a sense of shame and a fear among parents that, if reported, their children might be sent off to distant institutions, pigeonholed and channeled into an educational or career path with few opportunities. Nevertheless, a new survey is underway, which Ro believes will provide a more reliable picture.


Grund, possibly more than anyone else, has helped influence the change in attitudes toward the deaf here.

As a teenager, he watched a TV report in his native Germany suggesting there were “practically no” deaf people in North Korea. A fourth-generation deaf child in his own family, an incredulous Grund decided to go see for himself. Grund, now 30, has since devoted himself to improving life for deaf North Koreans. He works with the bureaucracy and with the deaf to train them to plan and lead their own projects.

Though funding is always a struggle, he has received support from Catholic and Protestant groups and private donors, mainly in Germany. The biggest individual contribution came from Michael Spavor, of Paektu Cultural Exchange and the organizer of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visit last year, who donated $20,000 to the deaf kindergarten project.

Grund’s mantra for empowering the deaf, “nothing about us without us,” often rankles with even the most sympathetic North Korean officials. In the country’s top-down system, hearing bureaucrats who often don’t understand the deaf experience are used to making decisions on their behalf.

Grund says he will continue to cooperate with deaf North Koreans — he currently works closely with about 20, up from just two in 2013 — to help them join mainstream society.

One priority is more schools for occupational training and educational opportunities for the deaf. Another is teaching more deaf children — and interpreters — how to sign. He also wants sign language interpretation made available at workplaces and meetings. But most of all, he wants to see signing on national television broadcasts, if just to raise awareness in the hearing community that the deaf exist and need not be hidden away.

“That has been my oldest dream, from the time I first came here,” he said.

Read the full story here:
German attempts to break down barriers for deaf in N. Korea
Associated Press
Eric Talmadge


“Dwarfism” in the DPRK

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

This week I read the following report in the Washington Free Beacon (2015-3-13):

North Korea’s communist government has created a dwarf village in a remote part of the country where short people it regards as undesirables are prevented from reproducing and forced to fend for themselves within the harsh Stalinist system.

The abuse of North Koreans who have dwarfism, a genetic condition that produces short bodies and disproportionate limbs, is the latest disclosure of widespread human rights abuses within the country. A U.N. commission report a year ago charged the regime with “crimes against humanity.”

Several North Korean defectors disclosed the existence of the village, called Yeonha-Ri, and said it is located in Kimhyongjik County, a border region in northeastern Ryanggang Province. The province is named after North Korea’s founding dictator Kim Il-Sung’s father, Kim Hyong-Jik.

Dwarfs are persecuted by the regime under a policy that combines Korean superstitions about physical deformities manifesting from personal or ancestral sin, and the hardline communist regime’s demand that all citizens must work, according to North Korean defectors.

As part of the anti-dwarf measures, all people under 120 centimeters in height, or just under four feet, have been forced to relocate to the farming village at Yeonha-Ri.

One defector, who disclosed details of the village on condition of anonymity, said the North Korean government originally planned to exterminate the dwarfs as part of a policy of eliminating those within the population with undesirable physical traits. But concerns about international reaction to the population “cleansing” instead resulted in allowing the dwarfs to set up the farming village.

The goal of the separation is to prevent the dwarfs from marrying and reproducing. To that end, they are forced to undergo sterilization.

Also, North Korean dwarfs face a greater risk of starvation because they are not given the same food rations as other North Koreas.

Travel is also restricted under the dubious claim that as little people the dwarfs could be crushed while riding on crowded train cars.

The Free Beacon article later references this article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

For what it is worth, Yeonha-ri, or Ryonha-ri (련하리) as the North Koreans call it, can be found on Google Earth at 41.418403°, 127.513423°. Here is a satellite image:


At its closest point, the village is just under 4 km from the Chinese border.


Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea briefly mentioned dwarfism in the detailed findings document:

Another research institute based in the ROK reported that human rights violations against persons with disabilities include the segregation and forced sterilization of persons suffering from dwarfism.

The citation for this quote is: KINU, White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea (2013), pp. 442-444. You can download the report here (as well as the most recent 2014 report, which does not mention “dwarfism” but rather “midget persons”).

The 2013 KINU report is based on defector interviews, so it is subject to the usual caveats.

The KINU 2013 survey respondents identify three locations of a dwarf village in Kim Hyong-jik County.

The first is a village named “Sangchangri” (Sangchang-ri), identified by two defectors. I am unable to locate a village by that name in Kim Hyong-jik County. It does not appear on any of my North or South Korean maps. I am aware of two villages named Sangchang-ri, but they are in North and South Hamgyong respectively.

Three other defectors independently report that they knew of a village for little people near Koup-gu, which is just north of Ryonha-ri (though they specifically identify Jungri-dong which is just 2.5 km south of Ryonha-ri).


A third location was identified as Wolthan Worker’s District (41.408095°, 127.059341°) which is in Kim Hyong-jik county, but on the western side.

The KINU reports also go on to say that the current legal status of little people is much more complicated than the simple narrative of identification, sterilization, and isolation that is reported in the contemporary media–especially following the death of Kim Il-sung.

Previous KINU reports also describe villages for little people in other parts of the country.

The reports of mistreatment of little people, however, date back many years. Hwang Jag-yap, who defected to South Korea in 19997 reported:

Concentration camps [plural] for persons of very short stature were set up in Jungpyung, in South Hamkyung province, after express orders from Kim Il-sung to isolate them to “prevent dwarves from multiplying.”

Additionally, I have a declassified report (FOUO) titled “Translations on Korean Affairs” published on May 18, 1979. It also mentions a dwarf village (p35):

In North Korea, in order to prevent the proliferation of dwarfs (deformed dwarfs), they are all put in a cooperative farm near Kanggye, Chagang Province, which is completely isolated from the outside. Therefore you cannot see dwarfs anywhere else.

This report gives the impression that there was only one village for little people and it was not so close to the Chinese border.

So there is lots of information on this topic that goes back many years and is not very consistent. Maybe somebody with more time than me could do a timeline of all the data and try to standardize all of the geographic names given.


ROK to resume training of DPRK doctors

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Wednesday it will resume a program to support North Korean medical doctors’ training in Germany.

The move, the first of its kind in seven years, is in line with the Park Geun-hye administration’s push for expanding humanitarian aid for the impoverished neighbor.

The unification ministry plans to provide a North Korea-Germany group with 90 million won (US$83,000) from the inter-Korean cooperation fund. It will be delivered through the (South) Korea Foundation for International Healthcare.

In 2001, the North Korea-Germany Medical Association launched a project to help train the communist nation’s doctors. A number of North Korean doctors were invited to Germany to learn the latest medical techniques for several months at local hospitals.

South Korea offered funds for the program in 2007 and 2008, but cut the assistance amid worsened relations with Pyongyang.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea to support N. Korean doctors’ training in Germany


Eugene Bell expands TB work in DPRK

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A U.S. charity group said Tuesday it has agreed with North Korea to expand its medical aid program in the impoverished nation.

Under the deal, the Washington-based Eugene Bell Foundation will construct three new wards at tuberculosis (TB) treatment centers in Pyongyang.

It is the fruit of a three-week trip to the communist nation by a group of 13 officials from the foundation.

“The number of patients at those treatment centers has grown as the activity of our foundation is increasingly known,” a foundation official said. “Every treatment center suffers a severe lack of wards.”

The foundation has long provided medical humanitarian assistance to North Korea, especially for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

In a new program, it is sending 770 million won (US$750,000) worth of TB medication to the North.

Read the full story here:
U.S. charity group to expand medical aid program in N. Korea


German Government offers TB assistance to DPRK

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The German government has provided North Korea with US$600,000 in medical aid via [Caritas International], a U.S. media reported Tuesday.

The Roman Catholic group Caritas International, which was launched in Germany in 1897, has been campaigning to help the needy in the impoverished communist nation, especially those infected with tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis.

“The German government is providing 450,000 euros [$600,000] to be used for the TB patients in the DPRK,” Reinhard A. Wurkner, a Caritas official in charge of Asia, was quoted as telling the Voice of America. DPRK is the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

Caritas began its North Korea project in 1996. It has since offered medical and nutritional assistance to TB and hepatitis patients in the country.

Read the full story here:
German gov’t offers US$600,000 in N. Korea aid


Eugene Bell offers TB assistance to the DPRK

Monday, July 28th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The Eugene Bell Foundation, which provides medical assistance to the impoverished North, will send 770 million won (US$750,000) worth of TB medication to the communist country, ministry officials said.

In February, the foundation shipped 720 million won worth of TB drugs to the North in an attempt to tackle the growing issue of multidrug-resistant TB in the country.

So far this year, the South has approved 11 shipments of civilian aid worth a combined 2.82 billion won to North Korea.

The latest approval comes after Seoul announced on July 15 that it will provide Pyongyang with humanitarian aid worth 3 billion won through civilian organizations.

It marks Seoul’s first state-funded aid to North Korea since the North torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in 2010, killing 46 sailors. Following the incident, Seoul imposed a blanket ban on cross-border economic and other exchanges.

Read the full story here:
Gov’t OKs civilian medical aid to N. Korea


AmeriCares sends aid to the DPRK

Friday, July 25th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A U.S. humanitarian group has sent US$800,000 worth of medical aid to North Korea as part of its continued effort to help the impoverished communist nation, a news report said Friday.

AmeriCares, a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut, shipped a package of medicine, sanitary goods and other medical aid in June, the Voice of America (VOA) reported.

The shipment will arrive at the end of this month, the aid group’s communication director, Donna Porstner, told the VOA.

The supplies will be distributed to six hospitals and clinics in Pyongyang, Pyongan Province, and North Hwanghae Province, it added.

AmeriCares said it delivered $1.8 million in medical assistance to North Korea earlier this year.

“Despite the challenging political context, AmeriCares — in its mission to help people in need irrespective of their race, creed or political persuasion — is committed to helping the people of North Korea, who have suffered from acute food shortages, natural disasters and isolation,” it said on its website,

“A limited number of economic, political and social ties often means that the country faces shortages of key medical supplies,” it added.

Read the full story here:
U.S. NGO ships US$800,000 worth of medical aid to N. Korea


De facto marketization of North Korean health care

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Eun Jeong Soh, post-doctoral fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, has written an interesting article in the East Asia Forum on the innovative practices that have developed in the DPRK’s health care system. According to the article:

In contrast to a number of incremental changes toward marketisation — which the government inevitably adopted — Pyongyang has emphasised its intention to maintain completely free and socialised health and education sectors. As a result, despite lacking the resources to provide for the country’s over 700 hospitals and over 6000 clinics, privatisation and decentralisation in the health care sector has been minimal. There have been reports of privately owned and financed pharmacies in the streets of major cities and in a number of hospitals. Nevertheless, health workers are generally reluctant to seek outside resources directly and autonomously for fear of getting into trouble.

Under this peculiar context, informal health care practices — such as informal payments, a black market for medicines and home-practicing doctors — have developed. In a study conducted by the United States Institute of Peace, 90 per cent of respondents admitted to having made informal payments to doctors and that purchasing medications on the black market was common. Interviews with defectors resettling in Seoul confirm this trend. People have learned to treat themselves at home using antibiotics, glass syringes bought from the black market and herbal or traditional medicines. Doctors and pharmacists have created informal referral networks based on a sense of mutual trust in each other’s expertise and competence.

Another noticeable phenomenon is the emergence of home-practicing doctors. Patients have come to prefer private house doctors — out of both convenience and trust — over hospitals where one has to bring everything from medicines to meals. Such practices are illegal but not uncommon. Even in the old days, given the close doctor-patient relationship fostered by the North Korean-style free health care system, people in emergency situations visited doctors’ homes.

Read the full story here:
Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain
East Asia Forum
Eun Jeong Soh, ANU


DPRK imports from Bangladesh in FY 2014

Friday, July 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The North spent over US$146,000 to buy medical supplies from Bangladesh in the fiscal year 2014, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing trade statistics from the Bangladeshi Export Promotion Bureau.

The figure is more than double the $68,000 tallied in the fiscal year 2013. The country closes its books in June.

The North likely chose Bangladesh as its trading partner because the latter can copy patented drugs and sell them abroad for now as per an international agreement brokered by the World Trade Organization, the Dhaka office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency said.

North Korea also bought $163,000 worth of instruments used in radiology from the U.S. in May, trade documents by the U.S. Commerce Development showed earlier this month.

Though it is too early to tell, the RFA speculated that the North’s sudden interest in medical import may be closely related to leader Kim Jong-un’s recent campaign to boast his “love for the people,” a move possibly aimed at assuaging public outrage over a deadly collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang in May.

The North’s healthcare spending has been among the least in the world, with the World Health Organization estimating that it had put in less than $1 per person in 2006.

Separately, the Swiss government has said it will continue its humanitarian assistance to North Korea for the next two years, the U.S.-based Voice of America reported Friday.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will extend its 2012-2014 Medium-Term Programme, an aid plan aimed at helping North Korea exploit sloping lands for farming purposes and gain better access to clean drinking water, by another couple of years, the report said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea ramps up import of medical equipment, drugs in past year: RFA


Two new interesting publications on the DPRK

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The two publications deal with changing leadership dynamics and health care for the disabled. Links below…

North Korean leadership dynamics and decision-making under Kim Jong-un: A second year assessment
Ken Gause, CNS
Publiched March 2014

People with Disabilities in a Changing North Korea
Katharina Zellweger, 2011–13 Pantech Fellow, Stanford University