Archive for the ‘Indigenous medicine’ Category

Meth as medicine

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

From a recent Newsweek article about meth use in the DPRK:

First synthesized in 1893, meth is now one of the world’s most widely abused drugs, imbuing the user with intense feelings of euphoria, concentration, and grandiosity. Smoked, injected or snorted, the drug also suppresses the need for food and sleep for an extended period of time; coming down can bring fatigue, anxiety, and occasionally suicidal ideation.

Inside North Korea, observers say, many use meth in place of expensive and hard-to-obtain medicine. “People with chronic disease take it until they’re addicted,” says one worker for a South Korea-based NGO, who requested anonymity in order to avoid jeopardizing his work with defectors. “They take it for things like cancer. This drug is their sole form of medication,” says the NGO worker, who has interviewed hundreds of defectors in the past three years. A former bicycle smuggler who defected in 2009 told NEWSWEEK of seeing a doctor administering meth to a friend’s sick father. “He took it and could speak well and move his hand again five minutes later. Because of this kind of effect, elderly people really took to this medicine.”

Jiro Ishimaru, founder and editor of Rimjin-gang, a magazine about North Korea and reported by people inside the country but published in Japan, says he has seen several North Koreans take meth to relieve stress and fatigue, including his former North Korean business partner. “He didn’t start taking it as a drug but as a medicine,” Ishimaru says.

The drug also offers an escape that might not otherwise be possible. As Shin puts it: “There’s so little hope in North Korea—that’s why ice is becoming popular. People have given up.”

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Meth Export
Isaac Stone Fish


North Korea’s Hyesan Jangmadang Prohibits Sale of Medical Products

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

An internal source conveyed on the 30th that due to an extreme decree which prohibits all sales of medical goods, the suffering of citizens has been increasing.

The source maintained that “In August, the sale of medical products was banned, and by the start of anti-socialism inspections in September, no medical products could be found in the jangmadang.”

The North Korean authorities have long since stated its position in prohibiting the sale of medical goods, saying that the sale of medical goods in the jangmadang is a show of democracy that undermines the national medical system. However, regulations usually never went beyond formalities.

Recently, however, anti-socialism inspections have been conducted on a large-scale in Yankang with the theme of “Abolishing capitalist trends in the market.” Medical products, which are mostly from China and South Korea, have been regulated more aggressively. Some have said that the authorities have strengthened regulations due to frequent incidences involving Chinese sub-standard medical products.”

With the harbinger of regulation of medical products, pharmaceutical vendors have sold medical products to their acquaintances on a limited basis. The price has increased significantly as well. Chinese-made aspirin, “Zhengtongbian”, which costs 20 North Korean won per pill, has hiked up to 30 won. A bottle of anti-diarrhea medicine has increased from 150 won to 300 won and penicillin from 120 to 200 won.

Especially the smuggling of Electrolyte Solution, used in IV’s to hydrate hospital patients, has stopped due to regulations, causing a jump in price.

From mid-August to the end of October, the anti-socialism inspections in Hyesan, Yankang were cooperatively conducted by the central Party, the Prosecutor’s Office, the National Security Agency and the People’s Safety Agency. Along with the strict regulation of cell phones, the market, and capitalist “corruption,” the medical goods ban has cast a heavy burden on the civilians.

“Good Friends” reported in October that “Thirty people have been incarcerated as a result of the anti-socialism inspections in Yankang since mid-August, and regulations have tightened.”

When the sale of medical products completely ceased in the markets, citizens and doctors who must treat their patients have been extremely disgruntled.

The source said, “People have to go to the homes of pharmacists in order to buy medicine, but they cannot if the pharmacists do not know them personally. The price has increased dramatically due to the regulations of medicinal products.”

“Even hospitals do not carry medicine and there is no way to procure them, even at doctors’ request.” Doctors have complained, saying “Are we supposed to just sit by and watch the sick people?”

A majority of medical products that could be found in the markets were Chinese-made contraband goods. In some cases, Party leaders or army hospital leaders have illegally procured medicine as well.

The source commented that when civilian discontent rose, the Party Municipal Committee explained the cause of the cease in sale of medical goods as, “In a socialist society, hospitals have guaranteed medical goods, but during this temporary time of suffering, some immoral people have hoarded the national medical supply and are making a profit.”


The Number of Children Who Drop out of School Increases Due to Hardships

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

In North Korea where free education is espoused, the number of students dropping out of school due to economic issues has been continuously increasing.

An North Korean aid organization, Good Friends, said in an informational material distributed on the 31st of October, said, “In Wonsan, Kangwon Province, there are a lot of children who do not even get to attend elementary school. They stop out of school due to difficulties in living and follow their parents to the market or sustain an existence from digging medicinal herbs from mountains and fields.”

In the midst of such a reality where the students’ attendance rate is increasingly falling, the source relayed that “At such a rate, voices of complaint among some officials of Kangwon Province that have said that all of Kangwon Province will become illiterate are high.”

”When actually walking around the streets or in the market of Wonsan, one can easily meet children who are selling water. It is easier to meet children in the markets than in schools.”

The source also relayed, “In a high school in Pohang District in Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province, three objects worth 2,000 won per person, among the list of notebook, writing utensils, winter vest, belt, and winter socks, are required under the pretext of classroom decorations.”

”In elementary schools in Hoiryeong, 500g of sunflower seeds per person were collected for Kim Jong Il’s birthday preparation on February 16th of next year. In other regions, elementary schools and middle schools are collecting each kind of products and upper-levels students are required to bring 20kg of scrap iron, 4 strips of rabbit leather and 1kg of white peace seed and the lower-levels 500g of scrap-iron, 500g of peace seed and 200g of castor-bean.”

It added, “Students whose family situations are difficult cannot keep up with school education. The number of students who do not go to school due to the shortage of funding are increasing.”

Further, “teachers prefer children who come from well-to-do families and give up on the children from poor families. Before, teachers would visit the homes of every student and try to persuade the families to allow the children to return to school, but nowadays, no one takes that kind of an initiative.”

The source also revealed that starting last October, street beggars have been increasing in the vicinity of the Chongjin markets.

The source stated, “Around the market area, young beggars daily fighting for the food that the restaurants have thrown away can be seen daily. During the day, they ask for alms near the market or look for things to eat in the garbage dump and in the winter, since the weather is cold and there are no places to sleep, people gather near steel mills, so they end up being completely covered with dust and dirt.”


Natural Medicines Produced in DPRK

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007


The world medical circles call for producing natural medicines today when various synthetic medicines are rampant.

The Unphasan Pharmaceutical Institute of the DPRK has developed and perfected natural medicines efficacious for the diseases such as arteriosclerosis, hyperlipemia, diabetes, obesity, hyperuricemia, hepatitis and pancreatitis which should be treated for a long time. Now the medicines are being applied to clinical treatment.

Director of the institute Sonu Su Yong told KCNA that the research team has developed medicines with natural substances as their main raw material and they are made an effective use in the treatment of diseases.

He went on to say:

To prevent the break of immune systems by anticancer agent, antituberclosis agent and other medicines, the team has made immune activator-Immunoton injection from fish skin. The injection is efficacious for the treatment and prevention of diseases including the acute and chronic hepatitis and pancreatitis.

Discle is potent for hyperlipemia. It, which has no side effect and prevents the disease from returning, is more effective than Symbastatin.

High-Ins is made of various natural substances. It improves insulin selectivity. It is good for the treatment of diabetes.

Health food Defatty is potent for simplex obesity which has not high lipid in blood. Among the newly developed medicines are health food Lipohepa for liver, health food Kumsanjong for hyperuricemia, health food Chitosan for hyperlipemia and osteoarthrosis and combined enzyme health food Dipansin for the digestive diseases. They are all patented medicines made by the institute with natural medical stuffs.


Sokthang Hot-Spring

Monday, May 21st, 2007


The Sokthang hot-spring in Onjong-ri, Yangdok County, South Phyongan Province is one of the famous spas in Korea.

Hot spring gushes from different places in three zones and the temperature of the water is 78 degrees centigrade.

The water contains mineral matters, hydrogen sulphide, metasilicic acid component, hydrogen carbonate ions and sodium ions.

As it regenerates skin, promotes blood circulation and heals inflammation, the water is applicable to the treatment of various diseases including chronic osteoarthritis, neuritis, neuralgia, sequelae of traumatism and operations and women’s troubles.

Nearly 50 years ago, a facility was built there for medical treatment with the hot-spring as the main, which was developed into Sokthang Hot-Spring Sanatorium, a medical institution for special treatment of skin diseases.

The sanatorium has mineral-water treatment rooms for bath, shower and rectoclysis, a physiotherapy room for high-frequency treatment and ultrasonic therapy, a functional treatment room for curative sports and massage and so on. It helps promote the people’s health.


Foreign NGOs in N.Korea try to counter culture of dependence

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007


 Philippe Agret


SARIWON, North Korea (AFP) – To cope with the pouring rain, the hospital tossed sawdust down the stairway leading to the operating theatre.

Two surgeons washed their hands in a sink, but sometimes they lack soap.

Much like the rest of North Korea, a political pariah and economic black hole, the nation’s hospitals subsist with whatever they can get their hands on, making ends meet with obsolete equipment, short-cut procedures and a smattering of foreign assistance.

Even by the standards of the developing world, the facilities here in Sariwon, a 45-minute drive south of the capital Pyongyang, leave much to be desired.

The medical equipment is largely German or Soviet, reused as long as possible, but spare parts are desperately lacking.

“As we lack sufficient or working equipment, we use local anaesthesia and acupuncture for operations,” said the director of the Sariwon hospital, Dr Choe Chol, a surgeon.

In winter, surgeons operate in rooms where the temperature is lower than five degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).

To improve conditions, the doctors and nurses pitch in themselves to make the hospital work, sometimes even laying down the tiling in the operating theatres.

“We do our best here. There’s no bleach, no soap, no disinfectant. We cleanse with distilled water. It’s the volunteers — the doctors and nurses — who regularly do the cleaning up,” said Veronique Mondon, the North Korea head of the French charity Premiere Urgence.

Premiere Urgence is one of only six foreign non-governmental organisations allowed to work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Like others NGOs, the group has set a goal of bringing the most basic treatment to the population — but also to encourage North Koreans to develop their own medical infrastructure.

Premiere Urgence’s primary effort has been producing intravenous drips — one of the only medical supplies made in North Korea — for the 12 hospitals where it works.

With 70 to 80 percent of the medicine in North Korea coming from overseas donations, the IV drip — in the form of a packet with a solution of distilled water, glucose and sodium — serves to ease the impact of the lack of supplies.

“These packets can be used for a great number of the medical problems in North Korea such as accidents, malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhea, typhus and hepatitis. They save lives,” said Mondon, a biologist who opened Premiere Urgence’s branch in North Korea in April 2002.

If IV drips are effective, their production is a daily challenge. The packets must be sterilised on site in the most sanitary conditions possible, a process that takes about three and a half hours.

In light of the instability of the electricity and frequent short power cuts, Premiere Urgence has brought in specially made transformers from China.

“The people in the laboratories work during the night to produce the packets so as to save the electricity for the sick people and operations during the day,” Mondon said.

“It was tough at first. It seemed to be an insurmountable task. But now, the North Koreans know that this is needed,” she said.

After the April 2004 disaster in the northern city of Ryongchon, when a cargo train blew up, killing more than 160 people and wounding a thousand others, Premiere Urgence worked round the clock to produce IV drips and distributed 40,000 of them to two hospitals that were treating victims.

Today, the laboratory in Sariwon produces 300 IV drips a day — enough to treat more than 200 patients in this 750-bed hospital.

Across North Korea, Premiere Urgence produces 500,000 packets a year, each one worth around 50 US cents.

The French group has also set up a central laboratory in Pyongyang for quality control over injectable solutions.

North Korea’s communist leadership adheres to the homegrown ideology of “Juche” — self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

But at least hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine in the 1990s and North Korea has since relied heavily on foreign assistance — notably for food — despite continued political defiance, including its test of an atomic device in October.

From the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the few NGOs in North Korea, all encourage local initiatives in an effort to prevent a culture of dependence.

Premiere Urgence plans eventually to hand over the maintenance of equipment and training of technical staff to the North Korean ministry of public health.

As for the ICRC, as well as helping produce 1,200 prosthetic limbs in 2006, it has focused efforts on training local people, including orthopaedic specialists and surgeons.

“North Korea’s pharmaceutical industry will never be able to develop if humanitarian groups flood North Korea with foreign medicine. It will continue to vegetate and manufacturer substandard products if foreigners do not buy local medicine,” said Felix Abt, a Swiss businessman who heads PyongSu Pharma JV. Co Ltd., one of the first foreign joint ventures in North Korea.

Pyongsu has set up a “model” pharmacy in Pyongyang and since September 2004 has run a factory with 30 employees manufacturing paracetamol, the pain relief drug sold under name brands such as Tylenol, along with aspirin and antibiotics.

Abt hopes one day to be able to export medicine from North Korea.

“For now, we are giving the North Koreans fish. It would be better to give them nets so they can catch fish,” Abt said.


Customs Officers “Losing Face” in Pursuit for Bribes

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Daily NK
Kang Jae Hyok

Since the nuclear experiment last year trade between North Korea and China had dwindled. However, lately, business is prospering thanks to the friendly moods between the U.S. and North Korea. Nonetheless, the frequent change in customs officers and their unreasonable requests are disturbing the businessmen.

Some Chinese merchants travel into and out of North Korea everyday, or at the least every couple of days. One businessman, Han Chul Ryong (pseudonym, Korean-Chinese, 42) who had recently visited North Korea for business, expressed his feelings in a concerned voice in a telephone conversation with the DailyNK on the 6th.

Han currently lives in Jilian and has been trading goods with North Korea for 4 years now. With a 2.5 ton truck, he imports and sells North Korean seafood and herbal medicines in China.

Han said, “Nowadays, I don’t want to trade anymore because of the customs officers. They make our lives so difficult… It’s like they have some sort of steel plate over their faces or something. They have no dignity, nothing.”

He added, “Customs officers are so competitive and make so many demands that I cannot remember them all unless it is written down in a notebook. They request a variety of goods such as food, fruits, medicine and electronic goods. Alcohol and cigarettes are a must.”

Another tradesman, Kim Chan Joo (pseudonym) who was traveling with Han said, “Some customs officers go as far as demanding materials for home renovations such as cement, iron rods, window panes, windows, doors and nails.”

When asked what kind of privileges customs officers give after receiving bribes, Kim responded, “Of courses there are privileges… Sometimes they reduce taxes or place a blind eye to goods that should not pass through.”

He said, “There is a saying, ‘A cow fed also gives dung.’ A customs officer who has been fed bribes cannot possibly enforce strict control” and added, “Though customs officers have helped increase trade, as time goes by, the standard of their demands are also rising.”

“That’s not the only annoying problem. After going to all that trouble developing friendly relations with customs officers, they are replaced by new ones and hence there are many losses… It takes double time and money to acquire friendly relations with newly replaced customs officers,” Kim said.

Being a customs officer is considered one of the upper middle-class jobs in North Korea. Unlike an average office worker, customs officers are treated similar to the army. The National Safety Agency is even in charge of some of the customs officers.

Often these people are greedy to accumulate funds for retirement or for their children and as a result, try to gather as much as they can while in office. Even in a chaotic North Korea society, the position of customs officer is considered the yolk of an egg. Consequently, officers go to all means to confiscate as much money as they can from Chinese tradesmen and relatives visiting family.

North Korean authorities are strengthening control over customs officers, however it is difficult to obliterate the problem as it is so deeply rooted. Rather, than the situation dying out, it seems that their unreasonable attitude will increase.

If a customs officer makes receives too many anonymous complaints, he/she is given a warning or penalty. When the situation worsens, the customs officer is then demoted to a different office or in the worse case, dismissed from duty.

Recently, it seems that North Korean authorities have become more aware of the situation and are making efforts to enforce control. One method is removing the officers who are dependent on this corrupt system to different locations.

Han said, “If customs officers don’t do this, it is hard for them to eat and live… Though the demands by Chosun customs officers are increasing by the day, in order to trade there is no other way.”


Taking Pulse of Herbal Medicine

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Herbal medicine occupies a very prominent place in the North Korean health care system.
In fact, it would be but a minor exaggeration to say that nowadays the North Korean health care system is largely built around traditional herbal medicine.

But this was not always the case. In the early years, until the mid-1950s, herbal medicine was looked upon with disapproval.

It did not appear ‘scientific’ enough, and the Soviet educated doctors saw it as a potentially dangerous superstition.

The first signs of the coming change in attitude were in 1954 when the licensing system for herbal doctors was first introduced.

But the revival of herbal medicine began in earnest in April 1956, when the North Korean cabinet of ministers accepted Decree No. 37, which envisioned the incorporation of herbal medicine into the official medical system. At the same time, Kim Il-sung made a very positive reference to herbal medicine in his lengthy speech delivered to the KWP Third Congress. By the end of 1956, there were 10 herbal medicine centers operating across the country, and by 1960 the number had reached 332.

I think it was not without good reason that this sudden revival of the medical tradition took place in 1956. This was when the North began to steer itself away from its Soviet patron, whose new policy of de-Stalinization met with growing disapproval in Pyongyang. It was also the time when nationalist trends began to grow in the North _ partially because nationalism served the interests of Kim Il-sung and his group, but also because it resonated with the feelings and world view of common Koreans. This created a fertile soil for the rejuvenation of hitherto neglected traditions. It is not incidental that in later eras the initial rejection of herbal medicine came to be blamed on the ‘factionalists’ _ that is, people who did not share Kim Il-sung’s nationalism and his drive for heavy industry and a powerful army at all costs.

And there was another dimension as well. We have been accustomed to thinking of herbal medicine as more expensive than its Western counterpart, but back in the 1950s the opposite was the case. Generally, East Asian medicine, which relied on local herbs, tended to be cheaper and this mattered in a poor country with limited resources.

Around the same time, herbal medicine was encouraged by the South Korean authorities as well. They also saw it as a cheap palliative, a substitute for the “real” Western medicine which only a few South Koreans could afford.

And, last but not least, the basic ideas of herbal medicine resonated quite well with Kim Il-sung’s new policy of selfreliance.

In a sense, herbal medicine was an embodiment of self-reliance in health care.

Thus, the 1960s was a period of triumphal advance for Eastern medicine in the North. For a while herbalists were trained in junior colleges, but from 1960, Pyongyang medical college opened a traditional medicine department. A number of research centers were created with the task of fusing the achievements of Western and traditional medicine. From 1960, a state evaluation committee began to operate, and in that year 239 North Korean herbalists became “Eastern medicine doctors, first class,” while 1,495 had to satisfy themselves with their inferior standing of “Eastern medicine doctors, second class.”

Of course, the growth of herbal medicine was accompanied by claims about wonder drugs and miraculous discoveries, to which the Stalinist regimes were so vulnerable (suffice to remind ourselves of the Lysenko affair in the USSR, or the improbable claims of wonder harvests in Mao’s China).

But the domination of Dr. Kim Pong-han, North Korea’s Lysenko, lasted for merely six years. In 1960 he claimed that he had discovered a new principal type of centralized system in the human body, somewhat similar to a nerve system of blood circulation. There was much talk of this alleged discovery and related medical miracles, but from 1966 all references to Professor Kim suddenly disappeared from the Pyongyang press.

The subsequent decades witnessed a continuous growth in the herbal medicine endeavor, which frequently received direct encouragement and approval from the Great Leader himself (after all, Kim Il-sung’s father once was a part-time herbalist himself). The reasons for the policy remained the same, and even some statements by Kim Il-sung were remarkably frank.

In 1988 he said, “If we produce a lot of Koryo medicine drugs, it is good not only for curing diseases, but also for solving the drug problem, since it will reduce the importation of drugs from other countries.” More than a dozen colleges now train herbalists in the North, and from 1985 would-be Western doctors have also been required to take introductory classes in Eastern medicine.

Perhaps, in some post-unification world the North will become a major source of quality herbal doctors, and their presence will help to drive down prices for this service which many Koreans take so seriously. Who knows, but there are already North Korean herbalists working in the South.


Yongchun Explosion…Chinese Merchants First to Inform

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

It is a well known fact that goods made in China are sweeping across North Korea with Chinese merchants taking the role of distributor.

However, Chinese merchants are not only exporting goods into North Korea but are also importing goods made in North Korea such as seafood, medicinal herbs, coal and minerals back to China.

Particularly, dried shellfish sells very well in China. As more and more Chinese merchants buy dried shellfish from North Korean markets, they play a critical role in the lives of North Korean citizens as sellers who are then able to raise the price due to demand. Every year, from April~Sept, people from the North-South Pyongan, Haean collect shellfish along the shore. 10kg of rice can be bought with 1kg of shellfish meat. Consequently, citizens of other regions also come to the beaches to collect shellfish.

If Chinese merchants did not import any goods and North Korea’s finest goods were not exported to China, the cost of goods at Jangmadang would increase exponentially. This is how close the relationship between the lives of North Korean citizens and Chinese merchants have become interconnected.

Significance of information runners

Though Chinese merchants are currently contributing to market stability, it does not necessarily mean that their existence will continue to be positive to North Korean authorities.

The people first to inform news of the Yongchun explosion in April 2004 to the outside world were Chinese merchants.

At the time, after confirming the lives their family members in North Korea, Chinese merchants who heard the explosion in Dandong gathered information about the explosion details from relatives in Shinuiju and Yongchun over mobile phones. Undoubtedly, news spread instinctively. The economic development zone, Dandong, which is at the mouth of the Yalu River is merely 10km from Yongchun.

Due to this incident, Kim Jong Il banned the use of mobile phones in North Korea. Chinese merchants have played a great role in the outflow of inside North Korean issues, a problem feared by North Korean authorities that contributes to the inflow of foreign information.

Recently, Chinese merchants have been charging a 20% fee involved in remitting dollars to defectors wanting to send money to family in North Korea. For example, if a defector wishes to send $1,000 to family in North Korea, a merchant will extract $200 and transfer the remaining $800 to the family.

As long as Chinese merchants have a specific identification card, they are free to travel between the North Korean-Chinese border and hence many defectors prefer to use Chinese merchants as the intermediary. Thanks to these merchants, many people can convey money and letters to family within North Korea.

In these respects, Chinese merchants are not only selling goods but are acting as information runners transporting news of the outside world into North Korean society.

As more and more North Koreans rely on markets as a means of living and trade between China and North Korea, the North Korean market will only continue to expand. We will have to wait and see whether or not Chinese merchants will have a healing or poisonous affect on the Kim Jong Il regime from here on in.


New Method of Breeding Terrapins Developed

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007


Scientists in the Zoological Institute of the Branch Academy of Biology under the DPRK State Academy of Sciences have proved successful in research into the artificial breeding of terrapins.

The terrapin is efficacious for weaklings and for the treatment of circulatory troubles. The new method shortens the growth period of terrapins to one fourth.

At the end of several-year experiments, they found out raw materials of assorted feed needed for the rapid growth of terrapins and their composition rate, and an effective method for reducing incubation duration by more than ten days compared with the natural conditions.

The productivity of the male terrapins is higher than that of the females. They, basing themselves on this, developed a technique by which they can control the rate of female and male freely.

The scientists also redesigned structures of the terrapin breeding farm to suit the habitation of the terrapins so as to make them grow healthily.