Archive for the ‘Epidemics’ Category

RoK approves private aid to DPRK

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

According to Yonhap:

Under the approval, Eugene Bell, a South Korean charity group, will ship tuberculosis medicine worth 678 million won (US$606,500 to eight tuberculosis clinics run by the South Korean group in North Korea. The shipment is expected to be delivered in April, the official said.

This marks the first aid package approved by the ministry since Park took office on Feb. 25. The last aid request was granted in November last year under President Lee Myung-bak.

“The approval is strictly for humanitarian purposes and should not be read as a message to condone North Korea’s recent provocations,” Kim said.

“The planned medicine aid can help cure about 500 multidrug-resistant tuberculosis patients in the North whose lives would be at serious risk without the medicine,” the spokesman said. It is difficult for North Korea to produce quality medicine to cure the difficult type of tuberculosis, he added.

President Park has repeatedly said despite relations with the North, she will continue to allow humanitarian aid to less-privileged North Koreans as part of her signature North Korean policy to build trust with the country. She, however, pledged to sternly respond to any provocations by the North.

“The spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is so serious that North Korea is judged to have missed the crucial ‘golden time’ to root out the tuberculosis,” Stephen Linton, the chairman of Eugene Bell, said in a news conference in November following a two-week visit to the country.

The charity foundation has been running a medical service program for tuberculosis patients in the North since 2000 and sends drugs on a regular basis to the impoverished country.

Read the full story here:
Seoul approves first private-level aid provision to N. Korea under new administration
Yonhap
2013-3-22

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DPRK child nourishment

Monday, March 26th, 2012

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Nearly two-thirds of North Korean children under 10, or some 2.2 million, suffer from growth disorders related to malnutrition and 18,000 of them are so undernourished that their life is at risk, according to a study.

Hwang Na-mi [황나미], a researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in Seoul, published her findings in the March issue of the journal Health and Welfare Forum on Sunday. She analyzed a nutrition assessment conducted in the North by the UNICEF in cooperation with the North’s Central Statistics Bureau in 2004 and 2009.

According to the study, 2.2 million or 61.7 percent of the North’s 3.55 million children under 10 were underweight, chronically malnourished with stunted growth, or acutely undernourished with a frail physique. Some numbers overlap.

Some 320,000 or 18.8 percent of children aged 0-4 years were underweight, and 430,000 or 23.1 percent of those aged 5-9. Five-year-old North Korean boys weighed less than 14.1 kg and girls less than 13.7 kg on average, about 4 kg lighter than their South Korean peers.

Some 1.23 million or 34.7 percent of children under nine showed stunted growth for their age due to malnutrition. Some 210,000 or 6 percent were frailly built and underweight for their height as a result of acute malnutrition.

Conditions varied widely between regions. In Ryanggang Province, which has no proper food rations and suffers from a lack of farmland, a massive 82.1 percent of children were undernourished, nearly double the percentage in the capital Pyongyang (43.5 percent). Next came South Hamgyong, North Hamgyong, and Jagang provinces.

“The health of North Korean children has improved thanks to food aid from the international community, but most of them are still undernourished,” Hwang said. “Some 0.5 percent of the North’s entire child population are at a high risk of dying of diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia or diarrhea because their immune system is so weak due to extreme malnutrition.”

 

Yonhap also reported on this same report:

The life expectancy of an average North Korean stood at 69.3, 10.8 years lower than comparable figure for a South Korean, a report by a social health institute said Sunday.

The report by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) based on a census conducted in 2008, showed the average life expectancy for North Korean men standing at 65.6 years, while for women it reached 72.7.

In the same year, an average South Korean was expected to live 80.1 years. Men and women were expected to live 76.5 years and 83.3 years, respectively, in the cited year.

The latest report also showed the health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) in North Korea stood at 58 in 2007 compared to 71 in South Korea. HALE refers to the average number of years that a person can expect to live without serious health problems.

KIHASA’s findings said death while giving birth reached 77.2 per every 100,000 mothers in the communist country in 2008, up from 54 in 1993. This is five times higher than the maternal death rate in South Korea.

The infant mortality rate in the North stood at 19.3 for every 1,000, which is again five times higher vis-a-vis the South.

Other illnesses cited for fatalities were also high, with tuberculosis accounting for 344 deaths per every 100,000 in 2010 in North Korea. This is much higher than 97 deaths caused by the same disease in the South.

The institute said that judging by the data, health conditions for people living in North Korea seem to have deteriorated over the years. It added that data released by international agencies such as the Nations Children’s Fund showed a gloomier picture of health conditions in the impoverished country, indicating that Pyongyang’s official census may not be totally reliable.

The actual census data can be found here.

Read the full stories here:
Most North Korean Children Under Nourished
Choson Ilbo 
2012-3-26

N. Korea’s life expectancy 10 years lower than South: report
Yonhap
2012-3-25

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2011 ROK aid to the DPRK

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

UPDATE 32 (2012-1-27): According to an article in the New York Times, inter-Korean trade and aid declined in 2011:

On Friday, the South’s Unification Ministry said that South Korean aid to the North fell to 19.6 billion won, or $17.5 million, last year [2011], down more than 51 percent from a year earlier [2010].

Inter-Korean trade fell by more than 10 percent [from 2010 to 2011] to about $1.5 million in 2011, the ministry said.

UPDATE 31 (2011-12-10): According to the Korea Times, the potential food aid is not being auctioned off.  It is being sent to South America. According to the article:

Seoul will send baby food originally offered as aid to North Korea to El Salvador following Pyongyang’s refusal to accept delivery, to help the South American country deal with damaging floods, officials said Friday.

The delivery consists of 190,000 packs of baby food that were part of a $4.4 million flood aid package to the North, which the Stalinist regime rejected two months ago amid high tension.

It was slated to depart from the port city of Busan via cargo ship for El Salvador, which has appealed for help to deal with floods that displaced tens of thousands earlier this year.

Seoul offered the aid, which also included biscuits and instant noodles, to help the North deal with torrential summer rains. But Pyongyang demanded cement and equipment instead and eventually shunned the offer altogether.

The rerouting of the items underscores lingering tension despite efforts to warm ties and eventually resume regional dialogue on dismantling the North’s nuclear program. Regional players want the situation on the peninsula to improve before the talks begin.

Pyongyang’s silence over the aid put a damper on the early signs of improvement. President Lee Myung-bak has been exercising a softer line since September, when he tapped close aide Yu Woo-ik as unification minister, including expanding humanitarian activities and cultural exchanges.

But the North, apparently seeking rice and other forms of massive aid, has recently slammed the flexible policy as political pandering to the South Korean public, which is gearing up for elections next year.

Such remarks come even as the unification ministry continues to approve northbound aid, including $5.65 million worth for infants, children and pregnant women through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Consultations are ongoing over how to provide more of the baby food. Seoul has also attempted to auction some of it off through a government website.

The North Korean regime is thought to be doing all it can to secure food and other handouts ahead of next April, when it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung. Watchers say that the North is liable to alternate pressure and peace offensives to secure as much aid as it can through inter-Korean and multilateral channels.

 

UPDATE 30 (2011-12-6): According to the Korean Herald the first auction of potential food aid (See Update 27 below) did not go so well, so Seoul is trying again:

South Korea plans a second attempt to auction off baby food originally intended for North Korean children, officials said Tuesday.

The move comes after nobody bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction Web site run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.

South Korea plans to issue a second public notice and adjust the prices, said an official handling the issue at the Unification Ministry. He did not elaborate on further details.

The baby food is part of 5 billion won ($4.4 million) worth of emergency relief aid South Korea had planned to ship to North Korean flood victims earlier this year.

South Korea dropped that plan in October after differences between the two Koreas on the items to be sent. South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North, instead of the cement and equipment its communist neighbor had requested.

Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate another 290,000 packs of baby food to other countries, according to another ministry official.

She declined to give further details, saying consultations are taking place.

UPDATE 29 (2011-12-5): The South Koreans will donate US$5.65 million to the DPRK via UNICEF.  Accoring to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.

The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.

Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.

There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.

“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.

South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.

South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.

Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.

..

Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

More than 47,000 North Koreans work at about 120 South Korean firms operating in the industrial zone to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

UPDATE 28 (2011-12-1): Distribution of private aid monitored in N.Korea. According to the Hankyoreh:

“North Koreans know that the wheat flour aid they received came from South Korea.”

These were the words of Cho Joong-hoon, director of the Unification Ministry’s humanitarian assistance division, during a meeting with reporters Wednesday at the Central Governmental Complex in Seoul upon his return from a recent visit to North Korea to monitor the distribution of aid.

“The name of the South Korean private aid group, the manufacturing company, the date, and the address were all printed on the packages of flour,” Cho said.

Arriving in North Korea on Sunday with Kim Min-ha, co-chairman of the private group Ambassadors for Peace, and three others, Cho visited three sites to observe the distribution of the 300 tons of flour provided in aid. The site were the Namchol Kindergarten, February 16 Refinery Kindergarten, and Tongmun Nursery in Chongju, North Pyongan.

It was the first visit to any part of North Korea besides Kaseong and Mt. Kumkang by a government official in the one year since the Yeonpyeong Island artillery attack on Nov. 23, 2010.

Cho said that the distribution, storage, preparation, and supply of the flour were monitored and that everything was confirmed to be proceeding as planned.

On the situation on the ground, Cho said, “Judging simply from the nursery and two kindergartens, the children’s nutritional condition does not appear to be good.” Cho noted that no heating was being supplied to the facilities despite the cold weather.

Cho said that while North Korean authorities did not official request food aid, a request was made under unofficial circumstances.

Cho also noted that construction efforts were under way on a highway connecting Pyongyang with Sinuiju.

“It is not very far from Pyongyang to Chongju, but I think the trip took about four hours because of the detour around the highway construction,” he said.

Analysts said this appears to be linked to hurried infrastructure building efforts, including highway servicing and construction, amid recent moves by North Korea to rebuild its economy through a stronger economic partnership with China.

UPDATE  27 (2011-11-29): Seoul auctions off “unwanted” DPRK food assistance. According ot the Korea Times:

South Korea has taken steps to auction off some baby food originally intended for North Korean children, an official said Tuesday.

The move comes nearly two months after South Korea dropped a plan to send 5 billion won ($4.3 million) worth of aid to North Korean flood victims, citing no response from the North as the reason for the change of plan.

South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North instead of cement and equipment requested by the North.

South Korea’s Red Cross, which handles relief aid to the North, gave public notice of a bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction website run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.

Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate the other 290,000 packs of baby food to foreign countries.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik has ruled out rice aid to the communist country unless Pyongyang admits to last year’s deadly provocations.

South Korea suspended unconditional aid in 2008 and imposed sanctions on the North last year in retaliation for the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.

The North has denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors. It also shelled a South Korean border island in November 2010, killing four South Koreans.

Still, South Korea has selectively allowed religious and private aid groups to deliver humanitarian and medical assistance to North Korea.

Also on Tuesday, a Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to return home after a rare trip to the North aimed at ensuring that South Korea’s recent private aid had reached its intended beneficiaries.

UPDATE 26 (2011-11-25): According to Yonhap, ROK officials are traveling to the DPRK to monitor food aid:

A South Korean official and four civilians left for North Korea on Friday on a rare mission to ensure that recent aid from Seoul had reached its intended beneficiaries, an official said.

The trip comes a day after North Korea threatened to turn South Korea’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in anger over Seoul’s massive military maneuvers near the tense sea border.

The Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to arrive in the North’s capital later Friday via Beijing, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

It is first time that North Korea has allowed a South Korean official to travel to the isolated country to monitor aid since a conservative government took power in Seoul in 2008.

They are scheduled to visit a day care center and two other child care facilities in the northwestern city of Jongju to monitor how 300 tons of flour were distributed to children and other recipients, according to a civic group.

Ambassadors for Peace Association, a civic group that is partly funded by the Unification Group, donated the flour to Jongju, the birthplace of Unification Church founder Moon Sun-myung.

The civic group said the monitors also plan to discuss details on another 300 tons of flour aid before returning home Tuesday. Some members of the civic group are associated with the controversial Unification Church.

Read previous posts on the ROK’s aid to the DPRK in 2011 below:

(more…)

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Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis health risk in DPRK

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis has emerged as a major public health problem for North Korea, a private foundation said Thursday, calling for public donation to help combat the highly contagious disease.

Stephen W. Linton, chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation, said his foundation currently treats some 600 multidrug-resistant patients in six medical centers in the North, but hundreds of people are still on the waiting list.

You can read more about the Eugene Bell Foundation’s work in the DPRK here.

Previous posts on the Eugene Bell Foundation here. Their web page is here.

Read the Yonhap story here:
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis poses public health risk in N. Korea
Yonhap
2011/10/27

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Eugene Bell foundation fighting tuberculosis in DPRK

Monday, February 21st, 2011

According to the Korea Times:

Dr. Stephen Linton, founder of the Eugene Bell Foundation, says his group’s program to combat multidrug resistant TB (MDRTB) has cured its first patients after four years of working to establish adequate care in the North.

“We’re making progress,” Linton, 60, said in a phone interview. “It has been a tremendous learning curve for the North Koreans on a very short time frame. It takes most nations decades to put together a good MDRTB program because the treatment is so intensive.”

A growing health concern worldwide, MDRTB emerges when regular TB is inadequately treated, creating bacteria resistant to first- and sometimes second-line drugs. Half of those who do not get treatment, which can take up to two years to complete, die.

The problem is compounded in poor countries not properly equipped to diagnose the disease and where malnutrition makes the body more susceptible to TB.

The organization’s hopeful outlook follows its most recent trip to the North in November last year, when it found a steadily-increasing rate of patients testing negative for the strain ― meaning they are no longer infective.

It also comes as the international community wrestles with how to help the impoverished country ― which has called in recent weeks for humanitarian assistance ― without supporting its provocative behavior.

In the case of treating MDRTB, the doctor says the breakthrough would be impossible without meaningful contributions on both sides of the tense border that divides the Koreas.

Powerful medicine

By 2007, Linton had been travelling to the North to treat TB for more than a decade, so he was braced for the news when caregivers complained that first-line drugs were not helping some patients.

“I knew it was going to be a real headache,” he said of the undertaking. “But the commitment of our donors and the desire to treat the people in most need ― that was a powerful incentive.”

Later that year, Linton and his team took sputum from 19 patients, brought the samples to a South Korean hospital for analysis, and returned six months later with medicine. On subsequent trips, the number of patients wanting the test grew.

By 2009, as an indication of the worsening health situation but also the growing trust in the program, Eugene Bell was overwhelmed by crowds of people at its testing centers.

The program now accommodates upwards of six hundred patients at six specialized centers across the country’s northwest.

Linton, who spent his childhood in South Korea, says the process requires significant “buy-in” from North Koreans, beginning with the health authorities.

In their biggest show of cooperation, the government agreed to Eugene Bell’s recommendation that treatment take place in centrally-located MDRTB centers, despite reluctance over the logistics.

It also needs the dedication of health care providers, who must vigilantly keep patients on their programs. If not, they can become resistant to MDRTB medications, opening the door for the emergence of XDRTB, which Linton calls “virtually incurable.”

But the biggest commitment comes from patients, who are prescribed with a harsh cocktail of drugs. Some need to learn to trust outside help, not always an easy task in the isolated country.

“This is a very rigorous and rough treatment program. It takes a lot of very strong, toxic medicines to treat MDRTB. Patients suffer a good bit,” said Linton, who counted nausea, vomiting, temporary deafness and psychosis as side effects.

If after eighteen months, a patient’s sputum tests negative for MDRTB, they are effectively cured. But if after a year they still test positive, the treatment is considered a failure.

“Most of those people know, because they are still coughing up phlegm,” the doctor said. “But failing people is terrible. This work can be very dramatic at times.”

You can read previous posts about the Eugene Bell Foundation here.

UPDATE: On February 24th the Korea Economic Institute held a conference with Dr. Sharon Perry, DPRK Tuberculosis Project, Stanford School of Medicine.  You can see the video of the conference here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. The paper is here (PDF).

Read the full sotry here:
Aid group engages N. Korea in fight against TB
Korea Times
Kim Joung-jin
2/21/2011

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Amnesty International publishes report on DPRK

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

UPDATE: UN World Health Organization has criticized the Amnesty report.  According to the Associated Press:

The World Health Organization found itself Friday in the strange position of defending North Korea’s health care system from an Amnesty International report, three months after WHO’s director described medicine in the totalitarian state as the envy of the developing world.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood insisted he wasn’t criticizing Amnesty’s work, but the public relations flap illustrated an essential quandary for aid groups in unfree states: how to help innocent people without playing into the hands of their leaders.

Amnesty’s report on Thursday described North Korea’s health care system in shambles, with doctors sometimes performing amputations without anesthesia and working by candlelight in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power. It also raised questions about whether coverage is universal as it — and WHO — claimed, noting most interviewees said they or a family member had given doctors cigarettes, alcohol or money to receive medical care. And those without any of these reported that they could get no health assistance at all.

Garwood said Thursday’s report by Amnesty was mainly anecdotal, with stories dating back to 2001, and not up to the U.N. agency’s scientific approach to evaluating health care.

“All the facts are from people who aren’t in the country,” Garwood told reporters in Geneva. “There’s no science in the research.”

The issue is sensitive for WHO because its director-general, Margaret Chan, praised the communist country after a visit in April and described its health care as the “envy” of most developing nations.

Major global relief agencies have been quietly fighting for years to save the lives of impoverished and malnourished North Koreans, even as the country’s go-it-alone government joined the exclusive club of nuclear weapons powers and wasted millions on confrontational military programs.

Some groups may fear being expelled from the country if they are openly critical of Pyongyang, which is highly sensitive to outside criticism. Still, Chan’s comments were uncommonly ebullient.

Garwood and WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib insisted that Amnesty’s report was complementary to their boss’ observations, and sought to downplay Chan’s praise for North Korea. Instead, they focused on the challenges she outlined for North Korea, from poor infrastructure and equipment to malnutrition and an inadequate supply of medicines.

But whereas Chan had noted that North Korea “has no lack of doctors and nurses,” Amnesty said some people had to walk two hours to get to a hospital for surgery. Chan cited the government’s “notable public health achievements,” while Amnesty said health care remained at a low level or was “progressively getting worse.”

Asked Friday what countries were envious of North Korea’s health, Chaib said she couldn’t name any. But she highlighted the importance of maintaining the health body’s presence in the country, where officials do their best to save lives despite “persisting challenges.”

“We are an organization dealing with member states, and we respect the sovereignty of all countries,” Chaib said. “We need to work there to improve the lives of people.”

Sam Zarifi, head of Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific program, said the human rights group stood by its findings.

“We certainly have a lot of restrictions in terms of working in North Korea, but we did our best in terms of capturing the information we could verify,” Zarifi said. “We don’t take the WHO’s statements as criticizing or rejecting Amnesty’s findings.”

He said Amnesty had spoken to North Koreans as well as to foreign health care and aid workers, and relied heavily on WHO for information — including the assessment that North Korea spends $1 per person per year on health care, the lowest level in the world.

The U.N. estimates that 8.7 million people need food in North Korea. The country has relied on foreign assistance to feed much of its population since the mid-1990s when its economy was hit by natural disasters and the loss of the regime’s Soviet benefactor.

North Korea, ruled by Kim Jong Il, is routinely described by U.N. and other reports as one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Garwood said Amnesty’s research added a needed element to understanding health conditions in North Korea, but added that it didn’t even mention recent improvements in the country as the result of a program funded by South Korea and aided by WHO.

The U.N. body claims that maternal mortality has declined by over 20 percent since 2005, and diarrhea cases and deaths in operations have also dropped. It says more than 6,000 doctors and nurses have been trained in emergency obstetric care, newborn care and child illnesses, while clinics have received better material for operations, blood transplants and other medical interventions.

As for Chan’s April claim that “people in the country do not have to worry about a lack of financial resources to access care,” Garwood said hundreds of field missions have been conducted in North Korea.

“None have come back reporting the kinds of things in the Amnesty report in terms of payment for services,” he said.

“I’m not saying they’re not credible accounts,” he added. “But it’s not taking into account some of the things that are happening today.”

Zarifi, of Amnesty, said the whole debate would be ended if North Korea’s government provided access to monitors so that everyone had a better understanding of the country’s health care system.

“Every indication we have indicates the state of health care in North Korea is dire,” he said.

ORIGINAL POST: Here is the introduction to the report (which you can download here as a PDF):

In the early 1990s, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) faced a famine that killed up to one million people in a population that at the time hovered around 22 million (the current population stands at 23.9 million). Food shortages and a more general economic crisis have persisted to this day. The government has resolutely maintained that it is committed to, and capable of, providing for the basic needs of its people and satisfying their right to food and a proper standard of health. The testimonies presented in this report suggest otherwise. The people of North Korea suffer significant deprivation in their enjoyment of the right to adequate health care, in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies. These poor policies include systematic failure to provide sufficient resources for basic health care (North Korea had one of the lowest levels of per capital funding for health care recorded by the World Health Organisation in 2006). After nearly two decades, food insecurity remains a critical concern for millions of North Koreans. This has been compounded by the government’s reluctance to seek international cooperation and assistance, which the government is obligated to do when it would otherwise be unable to ensure minimum essential levels of food for the whole population, and its restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This delayed and inadequate response to the food crisis has significantly affected people’s health.

Additionally, a currency revaluation plan in November 2009 caused spiralling inflation that in turn aggravated food shortages and sparked social unrest. In the first few months after the plan went into effect, the North Korean government exacerbated the situation by restricting the use of foreign currency, closing down food markets, and prohibiting small-plot farming. Many people died of starvation and many others lost their entire savings.

Amnesty International has documented how widespread and chronic malnutrition, which suppresses people’s immune system, has triggered epidemics and mass outbreaks of illnesses related to poor diet. Interviews with North Koreans depict a country that professes to have a universal (free) health care system but in reality struggles to provide even the most basic service to the population. Health facilities are rundown and operate with frequent power cuts and no heat. Medical personnel often do not receive salaries, and many hospitals function without medicines and other essentials. As doctors have begun charging for their services, which is illegal under North Korea’s universal health care system, the poor cannot access full medical care, especially medicines and surgery.

The interviews conducted by Amnesty International indicate that the North Korean government has also failed its obligation to provide adequate public health information. As a result, most of the interviewees were unaware of the importance of seeking proper medical diagnoses or completing a course of medication. And, because many hospitals no longer supply free services or medicines (despite government commitments to the contrary), many people normally do not visit doctors even when they are ill.

In a 2004 report, Starved of Rights: Human rights and the food crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Amnesty International documented actions of the North Korean government that aggravated the effects of the famine and the subsequent food crisis, including denying the existence of the problem for many years, and imposing ever tighter controls on the population to hide the true extent of the disaster from its own citizens. It also documented the government’s refusal to allow swift and equitable distribution of food and its imposition of restrictions on freedom of information and movement, which exacerbated the population’s ability to search for food.3 Although some progress has been made since 2004, access to food is still a critical issue in North Korea. As this report demonstrates, the inadequate and sometimes counter-productive actions of the North Korean government over the country’s food crisis have had a devastating impact on the health of the population.

Under international law and standards, North Korea is obligated to protect the rights of its population to the highest attainable standard of health. This means that, at the very least, the state must provide for adequate health care and the underlying determinants of health, including food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment. North Korea’s responsibilities under international and domestic law will be addressed in greater detail in section 5.

To improve the situation, Amnesty International presents the following key recommendations to the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with more detailed recommendations in the conclusion of this report.

Amnesty International calls on the North Korean government to:

1. as a matter of priority, ensure that food shortages are acknowledged and effective steps taken to address these shortages, including acceptance of needed international humanitarian assistance;

2. ensure the need-based and equitable distribution of health facilities, goods and services throughout the country;

3. co-operate with the World Food Programme and donors, allow unrestricted access to independent monitors, and ensure non-discrimination, transparency and openness in the distribution of food aid;

4.ensure that medical personnel are paid adequately and regularly so that they may carry out their duties properly;

5. undertake information and education campaigns to provide accurate and comprehensive information on prevalent infections and diseases; their causes, symptoms and treatment; and the importance of medical diagnosis and effective use of medicines.

Furthermore, Amnesty International recommends to the international community, and in particular, major donors and neighbouring countries such as China, Japan, Russian Federation, South Korea and US to:

1. ensure that the provision of humanitarian assistance in North Korea is based on need and is not subject to political conditions.

This report has received wide coverage in the media.  Here are the links:

Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

Choe Sang-hun, New York Times

Yonhap

BBC

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Cato Institute panel on DPRK

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

This week the Cato Institute hosted a panel on North Korea.  Participants include:

Stephen Linton, Chairman and Founder, Eugene Bell Foundation
Karin J. Lee, Executive Director, The National Committee on North Korea
Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
Ted Galen Carpenter (Moderator), Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

You can see a video of the panel discussion here.  It includes an interesting fundraising video by the Eugene Bell Foundation.

UPDATE: Tad at NKnews.org has a write up of the panel here.

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Donor fatigue…

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

According to Kang Hyun-kyong in the Korea Times:

As a veteran aid worker, Wolfgang Gerstner was weary of a vicious circle of escalating tensions between South and North Korea after the latter was found to be responsible for the sinking of the warship Cheonan on March 26.

According to the German consultant working for international aid group Caritas Germany, North Korea’s bellicose acts have led those outside the country who have tried to help it to harden their attitudes.

This has resulted in a decrease of donations, causing children there to live without vaccinations for example.

Gerstner, 53, went on to say that children and ordinary people living in the impoverished North, whose living standards couldn’t be worse, suffer the unintended consequences of the regime-led provocations.

“It is difficult for people living outside North Korea to separate ordinary people living in the North from the regime,” Gerstner, who oversees Caritas’s humanitarian aid program to North Korea (the CI-DPRK program), said last Thursday in an interview with The Korea Times at a hotel in Seoul.

Caritas relies on donations from individual and corporate members to sustain their humanitarian aid to less developed nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The aid organization also receives funds from the German government and Catholic churches here in Korea for the vaccination campaign for North Korean children.

North Korea is one of the nations where the rate of child mortality is alarmingly high.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 55 of every 1,000 children in North Korea die before they turn five.

Child mortality can be largely preventable if young children are vaccinated.

The North issuing a threat, however, is a stumbling block to the international effort to save children there.

When recipient governments make threats, it is natural for people living outside those nations to harden their view toward them, making donors or potential donors rethink their contribution.

“I don’t have the exact figure regarding the loss in donations after the provocation, but it certainly does have an effect on the amount,” Gerstner said.

“Escalating tensions make it difficult for aid workers like me to convince our donors to contribute to humanitarian assistance for the people there.”

Catastrophic security

The German aid worker sat down with the reporter days after wrapping up his recent visit to North Korea from June 8 to 12 this year for the regular vaccination program.

During the four-day field trip, Gerstner and August Stich, a medical advisor working with the Medical Mission Hospital Wuerzberg in Germany, visited the Sadong Tuberculosis Center, the new national laboratory at the Pyongyang Tuberculosis Hospital.

The two-man delegation also met with officials from the North Korean Ministry of Public Health and experts in medical institutes in Pyongyang and in the neighborhood of the North’s capital.

They made the June visit after about 500,000 North Korean children aged from seven to 16 years old were vaccinated in three rounds from February to April, thanks to the Caritas program.

Since March 2007 when he was first called upon to handle the CI-DPRK program, Gerstner has been to the North approximately 20 times for talks with his North Korean counterpart — the Ministry of Public Health.

His most recent trip came at a time when tension on the Korean Peninsula has shown little sign of subsiding after a multinational investigation team concluded last month that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for taking the lives of 46 sailors.

The North has denied it.

In an attempt to teach North Korea a lesson that any criminal acts will invite punishment, South Korea referred the Cheonan case to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) in early June, calling for retaliatory measures against the North for the unacceptable act.

North Korea has claiming it is “innocent” and further threatened to take “counter-measures” if the UNSC sides with the multinational team over the probe results and comes up with punitive measures against it.

The two Koreas’ engaging in a game of chicken in the wake of the sinking of the ship has led to international media headlines featuring the peninsula on the verge of a war.

A vicious circle

The security standoff has spillover effect on humanitarian assistance to the North.

Disappointed, individual and corporate donors have become skeptical about contributing money or goods for the improvement of living conditions in the North.

Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary general of Caritas, expressed her concern over the unintended consequences of rising tensions last Tuesday during a news conference held in Seoul.

“This tension, of course, makes it much more difficult for us as humanitarian actors to maintain a neutral and impartial interest at the international level for North Korea,” Knight said.

“When there is a bellicose act, when people start to feel concerned about conflict escalating, international attention and the sympathy perhaps of the international humanitarian community for the plights of the (North) Korean people tends to diminish, tends to wane.”

Knight went on to say that “that is the extreme concern for us.”

Caritas, which has spent a total of $33 million on humanitarian aid and development in North Korea since 1995, called for a continuation of assistance.

The reaction came weeks after the South Korean government’s halt of assistance to the North in retaliation for its torpedo attack on the ship.

“(Humanitarian assistance) is absolutely essential for us. The situation of the majority of the North Korean people is that most of them are struggling to get their daily basic needs. Most specifically, food and health,” Knight said.

‘N. Korean kids are brave’

In his previous visits to the North in March, Gerstner had opportunities of taking a closer look at the facilities of clinics, institutes, and primary and secondary schools, while monitoring the North’s implementation of Caritas’s vaccination programs.

“Compared with South Korean hospitals and their amenities, hospitals in the North are less modern. Doctors there have to rely more on traditional medicine as they don’t have necessary facilities and medicine,” he said.

He called North Korean children “very brave.”

“It happens in other countries that school age children cry when they wait for their turns in line for taking vaccination shots. But North Korean children never cried even when they took the shots,” he said.

Previously, Gerstner was involved in several emergency relief programs in Africa, Latin America and the former East Germany. He helped organize rehabilitation programs in the local community.

Gerstner said North Korean teachers and children were “friendly and open-minded” when meeting with him, although they never spoke.

He said the most difficult part when implementing the aid program to North Korea was access to information and communication.

“For planning, we need information and have to communicate with our counterpart. The ministry has no email account, making it more difficult for us to execute the program,” he said.

Read the full article here:
Donors turn their back on N. Korea for provocation, putting kids at risk
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
6/28/2010

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RoK to send malaria meds to DPRK

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

According ot the Daily NK:

South Korea has granted permission for an aid shipment of anti-malarial medication, the seventh shipment of aid to North Korea since the Cheonan sinking.

An Ministry of Unification said today, “We have decided to allow a shipment of anti-malarial medication worth $335,000, which was requested by the Korean Sharing Movement.”

Korean Sharing Movement is a well-known aid organization targetting North Korea.

The Korean Sharing Movement says it plans to send malaria diagnosis kits, mosquito nets and vaccines for pregnant women among other things to Jangpung, Geumcheon, Tosan and Kaesong, which are areas of North Korea adjacent to Gyeonggi Province, the province which surrounds Seoul.

Funding for the project has been provided by the government of Gyeonggi Province.

Most previous, post-Cheonan shipments have been aid for infants and children. Earlier this month, two aid consignments of infant-related aid were sent.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul, upon granting permission for the previous shipments, explained, “While South Korea will hold off on inter-Korean business projects on principle, we will continue providing purely humanitarian aid for the weak, such as infants and children.”

Including today’s shipment, the total cost of aid sent since punitive measures against North Korea were announced on May 24 has been approximately $603,000.

The current shipment of anti-malarial medication is being sent, the Ministry of Unification explained today, because malaria has the potential to spread into South Korea during the summer months.

Read the full story here:
Rok to send malaria medication to DPRK
Daily NK
Chris Green
6/24/2010

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WHO launches health initiative in DPRK

Monday, April 26th, 2010

UPDATE:  According to the Associated Press (Via Washinton Post):

North Korea formally launched a medical videoconference network Tuesday aimed at giving smaller, rural hospitals access to specialists in the capital Pyongyang with the help of the World Health Organization.

WHO has been providing cameras, computers and other equipment to North Korea to help the reclusive, impoverished country connect a main hospital in Pyongyang with medical facilities in 10 provinces. The system is designed to allow doctors to talk to each other to provide additional services to rural patients.

On Tuesday, North Korean health officials and visiting WHO Director-General Margaret Chan held the formal inaugural ceremony for the system at the Kim Man Yu hospital in Pyongyang, according to footage from broadcaster APTN.

“This is an excellent vision because it meets the needs of the government,” Chan said.

Chan, clad in a white gown, later tested the system by talking with provincial doctors via video link.

One unidentified doctor at Jagang province, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Pyongyang, told Chan he is satisfied with the system because it’s too far for his patients to visit specialists in the capital.

She arrived in Pyongyang on Monday, becoming the U.N. agency’s first chief to visit the communist country since 2001.

WHO opened its office in Pyongyang in 2001 and has coordinated the purchase of medical equipment and supplies for North Koreans. The world’s health body says on its Web site that it is currently focusing on strengthening the North’s health infrastructure.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Associated Press (via Taiwan News):

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan arrived in North Korea on Monday on a rare visit to the isolated country.

The U.N. body has said Chan will spend two days in the reclusive communist country _ the first chief to go since 2001 _ to tour health facilities and meet the country’s health minister.

The WHO has not provided details of Chan’s itinerary, but the Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch that Chan arrived in Pyongyang on Monday.

The dispatch said the government held a reception for Chan, who arrived the same day as Red Cross and Red Crescent officials. It was not clear if the visits were connected.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside assistance to feed much of its population since a famine believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

Malnutrition, dysentery, and vitamin and iodine deficiency are believed to pose serious risks among children in the country, which also faces a shortfall of hospitals and lacks an efficient state health care system.

Read the full stories here:
WHO chief arrives in North Korea on rare visit
Associate Press (Taiwan Times)
4/26/2010

NKorea launches telemedicine network with WHO help
Associated Press (via Washinton Post)
Kim Hyung-Jin
4/27/2010

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