Archive for the ‘Pediatrics’ Category

RoK improving health care in DPRK

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

According to the Associated Press (via the Washington Post):

North Koreans are getting better medical treatment as the result of a joint program between the two Koreas that has trained thousands of doctors, provided modern equipment and renovated hospitals, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Maternal mortality has declined by over 20 percent since 2005, and diarrhea cases and deaths in operations have also dropped, said Dr. Eric Laroche.

The World Health Organization has helped in the wide-ranging program, which started in 2006 and is funded by South Korea. It has cost a total of $30.2 million so far.

The program has trained more than 6,000 doctors and nurses in emergency obstetric care, newborn care and child illnesses, said Laroche, who assessed its progress in a four-day visit to North Korea.

The specialization marks a change in health strategy in North Korea, which has about 90,000 family doctors who care for about 130 families each, according to Laroche.

“They know each family one by one,” he said. But, he added, “they’re extremely keen to be trained.”

Laroche said hospital staff have been trained in hygiene and clinics have received better material for operations, blood transplants and other medical interventions.

Numerous hospitals have been renovated, and material has also been distributed to 1,200 rural clinics.

Between 2007 and 2009, the number of patients dying in operations fell 73.4 percent, said Laroche, citing a study by the University of Melbourne.

He declined to give an overall view of the health system in the isolated communist nation. But he said services were well-spread among cities and communities.

Read the full article here:
WHO: Korean cooperation boosting health in north
Associated Press (via Washington Post)
Elaine Engler
3/4/2010

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DPRK responds to US intelligence report on public health

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

In December 2008, the office of the US Director of National Intelligence issued a report titled, “Strategic Implications of Global Health (ICA 2008-10D).”  In this report, the DNI made the following comments about the state of public health in the DPRK and its effects on economic growth and military preparedness:

North Korea (p.46)
WHO Ranking of Health Systems (out of 190 countries rated): 167
NCMI Ranking of Health Care Capabilities: 5 (Unsuitable)

1. Economic crisis and famine of 1990s fueled breakdown of once-efficient health-care system.
2. Lack of medicine, equipment, sanitation, and reliable energy supplies make quality healthcare virtually unobtainable outside of Pyongyang.
3. Persistent refusal of international health expertise and assistance makes significant short-term improvements unlikely.

Most Urgent Health Problems:
1. TB, scarlet fever, and measles particularly prevalent, although Pyongyang’s secretiveness makes outbreaks extremely difficult to verify and track.
2. Chronic diseases account for an estimated 40 percent of deaths.
3. Even after the widespread famine of the 1990s, prolonged and severe malnutrition persisted; more than half of North Korean children are stunted or underweight, while two-thirds of young adults are malnourished or anemic. The World Food Program currently warns that a new food crisis is in the making as the result of floods and North Korea’s refusal to accept food aid from a new South Korean government that is highly critical of Pyongyang.

Other:
1. North Korean-manufactured illicit drugs—an effort to earn hard currency—increasingly used by citizens of that country as substitutes for scarce medicines or to relieve hunger or boredom.
2. HIV/AIDS prevalence is negligible.

Strategic Considerations:
1. Widespread malnutrition and accompanying physical and cognitive disabilities among DPRK children and young people likely inhibitors of economic growth—with or without opening to the outside world or reunification with the South.
2. If reunification occurs, South Korea will face costs not only of incorporating an economic void, but also those of a huge health-care burden. Seoul could look to other countries or to multilateral organizations to help defray expenses.
3.  Poor health is weakening military readiness because capable new recruits are in short supply. Loyalty may also erode over time, according to Eurasia Group; even when soldiers are well fed, they may be concerned about their malnourished family members.
4. The famine of the 1990s destroyed absolute state control of food rationing, internal movement of citizens, and information as North Koreans were compelled to defy state restrictions in their struggle for survival—and as those who had escaped to China in search of food and work returned with news of the outside world, according to Human Rights Watch.

Potential Opportunities:
1.  Health cooperation (amelioration of North Korea’s heavy health burden) could serve as a means of “diplomacy through the back door.”

Other Comments:

Widespread ill health in the youth cohort may reduce a country’s pool of healthy and capable military recruits, a phenomenon that is currently playing out in Russia and North Korea. Deployed military forces will continue to be vulnerable to the ravages of infectious diseases, and the capability of a government to provide adequate health protection for its troops will significantly impact its ability to project force abroad. (p.5)

Malnutrition-related cognitive disabilities among North Korean children and young people likely will impact future economic growth in that country regardless of when Pyongyang opens to the outside world or reunifies with the South. Nationwide malnutrition has compelled Pyongyang to lower minimum height and weight requirements for military service, and an estimated 17 to 29 percent of potential North Korean military conscripts between 2009 and 2013 will have cognitive deficiencies disqualifying them for service. (p.6)

Along these lines, it is likely that malnutrition-related cognitive disabilities among North Korean children and young people—resulting from the 1990s famine, as well as the widespread hunger that persists to this day—will inhibit future DPRK economic growth, with or without opening to the outside world or reunification with the South. (p.24)

As a consequence of early childhood malnutrition, an estimated 17 to 29 percent of potential North Korean military conscripts will have cognitive deficiencies severe enough to disqualify them for service by US standards (This figure does not include individuals who are mentally capable but have physical conditions disqualifying them from service). The National Center for Medical Intelligence estimates that mental fitness of North Koreans subject to military conscription will be at its weakest during the period 2009-2013 as children born during the severe food shortages and famine of the 1990s reach military age. (p.28)

For the record, the UN WHO ceased publishing the Ranking of Health Systems in 2000 due to the “complexity of the task.” My suspicion is that it was actually ended because member governments did not appreciate being ranked in this field.  However the DPRK’s score of 167 dates from the final publication eight+ years ago. I am unable to investigate the DPRK’s score from the NCMI because this report is not publicly available (as best I can tell).

Although this report offers a decent summary projection of the effects of poor health on the DPRK’s strategic options, there is not much new, or newsworthy, about the report (at least as it pertains to the DPRK).  Most of this information has been floating around the public domain for some time. In fact, I probably never would have heard of this study if the North Korean’s had not publicly complained about it in KCNA. (Click here to read KCNA story

Quoting from Yonhap:

“They floated the cock-and-bull story,” the KCNA said, “It is an open secret that the ill-famed intelligence and plot-breeding institutions of the U.S. including the CIA are hell-bent on releasing false reports about its hostile countries.”

“It is the unpopular healthcare system in the U.S. which should be overhauled or replaced by a new one,” the report said.

“However, they released the false report, finding fault with the advantageous healthcare system in the DPRK in a bid to hurt the prestige and dignity of the DPRK in the international arena and stir up ‘ill feelings’ in society,” it said.

This report is 55 pages long and the portions on North Korea (listed above in full) barely fill two pages.  I am not sure why the North Korean’s chose to draw attention to it by complaining in KCNA.  

You can read the Yonhap story here:
N. Korea condemns U.S. intelligence report on its combat ability
Yonhap
1/24/2009

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A Dangerous Opportunity in North Korea

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

United Methodist Church: Kentucky Annual Conference
Dr. Bill Moore
7/31/2008

Dr. Bill Moore, the pastor of Southern Hills United Methodist Church in Lexington, was in North Korea May 14-29.  The son of United Methodist missionaries, he is a member of a humanitarian aid group called Christian Friends of Korea.  He offers a perspective on a deepening crisis.

I traveled to North Korea during the last two weeks of May as a member of a six-person delegation from a non-government organization (NGO) called Christian Friends of Korea. We flew into the capital city of Pyong Yang to confirm the arrival and proper distribution of donated goods, to deliver donors lists and greetings, and to build relationships and trust. The Board of Directors for this group, of which I am a member, is composed of former missionaries to Korea, the children of missionaries, and others with a concern to relieve the suffering and hardships of the people of this grim Communist dictatorship called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It is often hard to see the suffering faces of the 23 million North Koreans hidden behind the headlines of international diplomatic struggle and nuclear intrigue.  Famine, floods (two devastating events in 2007), and mismanagement have left the nation in economic ruin. Christian Friends of Korea (CFK) has been quietly working in the DPRK for 13 years, meeting some of the most basic needs of thousands of people struggling with the life-threatening, but curable disease of tuberculosis. CFK’s efforts to show love and compassion to people who continue to endure food shortages, poverty, disease, and oppression are building trust and chipping away at long-standing hostility.   
 
North Korea is a beautiful place in May.  Everything had greened up nicely.  The cottonwood trees had deposited wind-blown piles of downy fluff in the roadways, blanketing the bushes and spider webs.  The guest house on the banks of the Taedong River near Pyong Yang where our Christian Friends of Korea Team stayed for most of the visit had a dense backdrop of vegetation, populated by ring neck pheasant, which appeared unfazed by the foreigners nearby and sounded off regularly.  The acacia trees were in full bloom.

As we moved through the countryside, the workers on the collective farms were transplanting rice plants into the paddy fields.  This is a critical phase of life in the north, and everyone is expected to take part.  Backs bent, barefooted workers move slowly across the fields.  On the mud dikes of the water-filled paddies there are often patriotic slogans on placards, revolutionary red flags flying, and even sound trucks playing inspirational songs.  This idyllic picture of a worker’s paradise belies a truth that is not readily apparent.  The coming fall harvest, which is vital to a nation where one-third of the people suffer from malnutrition, is already in jeopardy.  Previous large shipments of fertilizer from South Korea have been withheld this year for political reasons.  China has pledged to fill the gap, but nothing has arrived yet.  Aid workers from other countries told us that the potato crop is already stunted, and predicted that the rice crop will be twenty-five percent less this year.  Even in years of good harvests, North Korea still falls about 1 million metric tons short of food, out of an estimated 5 million tons needed.    This year the shortfall is expected to exceed 1.6 million metric tons.  For those receiving rations, the daily government ration of grain per person was reduced from 250 grams to 150 grams in June.  Uncertain food aid, coupled with poor food security (effective agricultural production) means an increase among the populace in susceptibility to disease, particularly tuberculosis, which afflicts an estimated five percent of the North Korean people.  In fact, since last year, the registered cases of TB have risen from 52,000 to 100,000 cases.

This was the backdrop for our journey to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as an NGO working to provide medicine (specifically tuberculosis treatment drugs), medical equipment, farm machinery, vehicles, construction materials and food for the people of the DPRK.  The needs are real, and the urgency is intensifying. The Chinese character for “crisis” is composed of two other characters: “danger” and “opportunity.” As we traveled to fourteen different medical facilities, we could see that there is a “dangerous opportunity’ to make a difference in this land, and bring hope to many lives.

Our team was a diverse, ecumenical mix of six people.  Our Executive Director, Heidi Linton, grew up in Alaska, married into a famous Presbyterian missionary family, and has effectively immersed herself in the work of Christian Friends of Korea for the last 13 years.  By her indomitable spirit, genuine integrity, and meticulous attention to detail for providing aid and assistance, she has endeared herself to the North Korean leaders assigned to us through the Ministry of Public Health and forged a working relationship which is highly effective.  Dr. John Somerville, retired Presbyterian missionary, was our official Korean speaker on the trip.  A Harvard graduate in Asian studies, Dr. Somerville spent many years teaching in South Korea, and has visited the north on 10 previous visits.  Paul Moffett, a pastor at Lighthouse Christian Center in Puyallup, WA, is the great-grandson of pioneer Presbyterian missionary Samuel Moffett, who came to Pyong Yang in 1905.  Lee Wheeler is an agricultural engineer from Hesston, KS, representing the Mennonite Central Committee, a CFK partner.  He is a greenhouse expert who has also made 10 trips to the DPRK.   Terry Smith, Heidi’s able assistant, came from Memphis, TN and now lives in Black Mountain (headquarters of CFK).  I rounded out the team.  I’m the son of United Methodist missionaries, James and Margaret Moore.  My grandfather, Dr. Stanley Martin, was a Canadian Presbyterian medical missionary in China and Korea.  I grew up in Seoul, South Korea.

Our purpose in traveling to North Korea for Christian Friends of Korea was to make a “confirming” visit, checking to make sure that the supplies and equipment (more than three million dollars worth sent since January) had been properly received, inventoried and distributed; to present lists of donors to the facility directors; and to build relationships and trust with everyone with whom we had contact.  We were accompanied at all times by young government officials who were both personable and efficient, and escorted us to every location.  They shared with us a passion and concern for the welfare of their people.  Part of this work was to visit two warehouse locations to make sure supplies were moving out to the facilities.  This is important also to make way for incoming shipping containers.  It is noteworthy that our North Korean counterparts in the Ministry of Public Health value the aid assistance of CFK and a similar NGO so much that they actually built a spacious warehouse just for receiving shipments to be distributed to CFK ministry sites.  A forklift sent by CFK donors was in use there. The other main task of confirming was to visit the actual facilities, interview directors, staff, and patients, and assess the priorities and needs of each place.  These visits were the heart of our schedule.

A typical trip to one of the hospitals or TB rest homes began with a convoy of vehicles traveling to the locations scheduled for the day.  The road surface usually began with paved roads of varying quality that soon gave way to a washboard gravel road, a muddy track snaking up into the hills, or even a rocky stream bed that had to be forded.  Once we arrived, we were greeted by the director, doctors, nurses, and various local officials.  We would be seated around a table with refreshments provided for the visitors (strawberries, peanuts, tea), introductions would be made, the donor list presented in Korean with an explanation, and Heidi Linton would begin the process of inquiry.  What is the current situation in this place?  How many TB patients are there?   How did the devastating floods of 2007 affect the facility and patients?  What are your priorities here?  Is there enough food for the patients?  Local Communist party officials who attended the meetings were visibly uncomfortable about discussions of flood damage or food shortages.  Furtive glances were sometimes exchanged before hospital staff would answer such questions.  The stock answer: “The government provides us with food.” 

Questions would be asked about the arrival of vitamins, health kits, bedding, laundry soap, Pedialyte, doctor’s kits, hospital beds, and TB medicine.  Food shipments of canned meat, soy beans and dry vegetable soup mix were checked on.  A list of donors was presented to the directors at each location.  New equipment was sometimes delivered, including new electronic microscopes and a “Lab in a Suitcase,” a sophisticated package of diagnostic equipment to identify infected TB patients.  Some sites had cargo tri-motorcycles to transport supplies slated for delivery.  A new kind of greenhouse, which does not require an additional heat source even in frigid temperatures, was offered at each place.  A tour of the facilities meant a chance to meet the patients, to inquire about their health, and to offer best wishes and prayers for swift recovery.  Outside, the greenhouses, which are so important for supplementing meager government rations, would be inspected. Walking tractors and bicycles provided by CFK were noted.

One of the highlights of the journey was to see the wonderful progress that has been made in the construction of modern surgical facilities at both the North Hwangae TB Hospital in Sariwon and the South Hwangae TB Hospital in Haeju.  The surgical suites, built with the expertise and direction of CFK Technical Teams, feature new anti-microbial tile on the walls, non-skid floor tiles, power conditioners and new electrical wiring, heating/AC, lighting, and new surgical equipment and supplies enabling more complicated procedures and greatly improved surgical outcomes.  One patient, who had been brought to Sariwon for an operation from a TB rest home, remarked when he saw the gleaming facility, “I feel like I am cured already!”  The result of the renovations is stronger confidence among patients that healing will occur, and the number of patients willing to undergo surgery has tripled.  Because of the sterile conditions, post-operative infection has been greatly reduced.  Eighty percent of the patients used to have post-op infections.  Now it is down to 1 in 5 patients.  We also saw the preparations for a similar renovation at the Kaesong Provincial Pediatric Hospital (serving 144,000 children) where the surgery area has been stripped to the bare stones in preparation for the $200,000 make-over made possible by a CFK donor.  In earlier days this was a Methodist mission hospital, visited by my grandfather who installed x-ray equipment there in the early 1920’s.  At Hwangju TB Rest Home construction is under way to build new facilities that will house150 or more patients.  The buildings will replace two others that were destroyed in last year’s floods.  They need a roof right away, followed by windows and doors.  This is a critical need, and participation from United Methodist Churches would be most welcome in raising funds for this vital construction need.

While there are very encouraging signs of progress at CFK projects, there are specific needs that must be immediately addressed.  There is an expected shortfall in TB medicine, especially in terms of DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short Course) drugs which, when given under supervision, are very effective.  Because of a loss of funding by the World Health Organization, CFK is being asked to provide 12,000 treatments in our regions (North and South Hwanghae and Kaesong) which will cost in excess of $245,000.  In response to the deepening food crisis, two 40-foot containers of canned meat will be shipped before the end of the year in a joint effort with the Mennonite Central Committee, who generously provides $500,000 worth of this commodity to CFK projects annually.

Everywhere the CFK Team went on this confirming visit there were expressions of gratitude.  When one director was asked what further assistance he needed for his facility, he exclaimed, “You have already sent a lot!”  Heidi Linton responded that God in His love had provided these things.  The director’s response: “Please send thanks to our Christian friends in America.”

You might be asking: what does the work of Christian Friends of Korea have to do with The United Methodist Church?  It is difficult to do any kind of Christian ministry in North Korea since traditional denominational mission work is not allowed, but an effort through a non-government organization makes it possible.  When needs are critical, we must find mission partners wherever we can.  The mission of CFK also addresses two of the priorities coming out of General Conference: engaging ministry with the poor (preventing starvation) and making the world malaria free, AIDS-free, and tuberculosis free.  Here’s a piece of good news—the US government is in the process of shipping a total of 500,000 tons of food to North Korea as a result of some movement in the nuclear negotiations.  The United Nations World Food Program will distribute 400,000 tons throughout the DPRK.  As a part of this initiative, on June 30 it was announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) office of Food for Peace will work with 5 aid agencies to distribute 100,000 metric tons of food to 550,000 people at risk, mostly children, elderly and nursing mothers, in two North Korean provinces.  The agencies involved in this effort are World Vision, Mercy Corps, Global Resource Services, Samaritan’s Purse, and Christian Friends of Korea.

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6,000 North Korean children receive vaccines…

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

…against Japanese encephalitis, meningitis

The one-day campaign on Feb. 29 was a pilot project to study the feasibility of introducing both vaccines to the north’s routine inoculation program, the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute said in a statement.

Some 3,000 children in Sariwon, south of Pyongyang, received the encephalitis vaccine, while the others in the city of Nampo, southwest of the capital, were administered with a vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type B – a bacteria that causes meningitis, it said.

Read the full story here:
6,000 North Korean children receive vaccines against Japanese encephalitis, meningitis
Associated Press
3/12/2008

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IFES DPRK monthly recap: January 2008

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-2-5-1
2/5/2008

Kim Jong Il’s first visit of the year was reported on January 6 to have been to the Ryesonggnang hydro-electric power plant. Generally, the leader’s visits in the first months of the year, along with the New Year’s Joint Editorial, which focused on economic recovery, set the tone for the coming year’s policies. His second inspection of the year was to a military unit.

Defectors claim that prostitution is on the rise in North Korea, and on January 9, the aid group ‘Good Friends’ reported that the DPRK has begun to close massage parlors as part of a crackdown on prostitution. The agency reported that in the DPRK there was a “steady campaign to weed out decadent foreign culture,” and that in September, DPRK soldiers were ordered to avoid alcohol, sex, and money.

On January 16, it was reported that Kim Jong Il had instructed all DPRK institutions to reduce their bureaucracies, including senior staff, by thirty percent.

Figures released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency indicate that the DPRK’s population had increased to 23.6 million in 2004, the latest available figures. According to DPRK figures, the population has grown from 22.1 million in 1996.

North Korea announced the closure of its Australian embassy on January 22. While the DPRK will continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Australia, it apparently can no longer afford to maintain an embassy in Canberra.

According to a report released by the International Red Cross, North Korea has the largest number of people in the world killed by natural disasters over the past decade. The report states that 458 thousand North Koreans have died from natural disaster, 38 percent of the disaster-caused deaths in 220 countries from 1997-2006.

A U.S. Senate investigation reported that the DPRK funneled as much as 2.7 million USD through a bank account set up from UN development projects. The report stated that North Korea used the UN account due to fears that the United States would block its ability to transfer money internationally.

DPRK Nuclear Negotiations

2008 opened with the United States and Japan releasing statements expressing their disappointment at North Korea’s failure to meet its December 31 deadline to fully disclose the extent of its nuclear programs, while North Korea’s New Year’s Joint Editorial called for “stability on the Korean Peninsula and peace in the world” as well as an end to hostile U.S. policies. A U.S. White House spokesman stressed that there was still opportunity to move forward with negotiations, stating, “the important thing is that we get a declaration that…needs to be full and complete,” not whether the declaration is made by the deadline.

On January 4, North Korea claimed it had met its obligations to come clean on its nuclear programs, and that it had provided Washington with a list of its nuclear programs in November. Pyongyang also threatened to bolster its “war deterrent” because Washington had failed to provide promised aid following the declaration. Washington denied that any complete declaration had been made.

A senior Russian diplomat was quoted on January 11 as saying that while Russia regrets the slowed state of progress in talks on DPRK nuclear issues, Russia will fulfill its promise to provide the North with fuel oil. 50,000 tons of fuel oil were delivered on January 20~21.

According to a book of figures recently published by the National Statistical Office, ”Comparison of North and South Korean Socio-economic Circumstances”, the DPRK”s crude imports over the past several years bottomed out at 2,325,000 barrels in 1999, then rose to 4,244,000 barrels by 2001. Since 2001, imports have steadily fallen until only 3,841,000 barrels were imported in 2006, recording the least imports in the last five years.

North Korea opened its first online shopping mall in January. The site offers items from fourteen categories ranging from machinery and building materials to stamps and artworks. The site, www.dprk-economy.com/en/shop/index.php, is based in China.

Orascom Telecom, a Cairo-based phone operator, has been granted the first commercial license for provision of mobile phone services in North Korea. The license was granted to CHEO Technology, a subsidiary that is 25 percent-owned by the state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation.

DPRK Abduction Issue

The Cambodian Foreign Minister announced on January 16 that his country had been working behind the scenes to find a resolution to the DPRK-Japan abduction issue. The minister stated, “Cambodia is in a position where it can hold high-level meetings with North Korea, and it has the ability to persuade North Korea.”

Inter-Korean Affairs

The incoming Lee Myung-bak administration announced on January 4 a plan to develop an international cooperative fund to support North Korea’s economy. The plan is said to call for World Bank and the Asia Development Bank to help, and for South Korea to provide 40 billion USD.

On January 7, it was reported that Lee Myung-bak’s presidential transition team had asked the ROK Unification Ministry to slow the pace of inter-Korean economic projects and to link them to progress in the six-party talks. The incoming administration has promised not to link humanitarian projects such as rice and fertilizer aid to nuclear negotiations.

The Lee Myung-bak administration announced plans for downsizing the South Korean government, including disbanding of the Ministry of Unification. Opposition to the plan points out the role played by the ministry in improving inter-Korean relations, while proponents to the plan of relegating the ministry’s duties to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade applaud the move to align North Korea policy with standing foreign policy directives.

On January 14, it was reported that Lee Myung-bak had asked the United States to further engage in talks with DPRK military leaders, while presenting a balanced approach, stating that “our people don’t support the idea of giving lavish aid to the North nor do they want to irritate it too much, I believe.” He went on to add that the United States holds the key to easing DPRK fears of opening up.

The net worth of inter-Korean exchanges totaled 1,797,890,000 USD in 2007, up 33% from the 1.35 billion USD in the previous year. The almost 1.8 billion dollars in trade recorded in 2007 is the highest to date, and is equal to 65 percent of the DPRK”s non-Korean trade volume of 2.996 billion USD in 2006.

The Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute announced on January 14 that it will soon begin inoculating approximately six thousand North Korean children against bacterial meningitis and Japanese encephalitis.

The two Koreas began working-level military talks on January 25, marking the first talks of the year. During talks, the North proposed reducing the frequency of the inter-Korean rail services, citing a lack of cargo. The Southern delegation felt that the frequency was an important indication of inter-Korean cooperation. The two sides agreed to continue daily runs, but to reduce the number of empty carriages in the future.

North Korea is still not as attractive to businesses as other Asian neighbors. A survey released by the (South) Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on January 28 indicated that China and Vietnam are more attractive to ROK businesses. According to the survey, 80 percent of businesses have difficulties starting or operating businesses in North Korea.

An ROK special envoy returned on January 23 from Moscow after proposing a joint ROK-DPRK-Russian cooperative project in eastern Siberia. President-elect Lee Myung-bak sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin pushing for cooperation of “North Korea’s workforce, Russia’s resources and capital, and [South] Korean technology.”

U.S.-DPRK Relations

On January 9, amidst reports concerning possible DPRK-Syria nuclear connections, it was reported that in 1991 Israel was posed to strike a ship suspected of delivering missiles from the DPRK to Syria, but was dissuaded by Washington.

A U.S. State Department official stated on January 22 that North Korea had met the legal criteria to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. This came just after reports of conflicting opinions within the Bush administration, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sharply rebuking Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Lefkowitz, who stated that North Korea is not serious about nuclear disarmament. Rice went so far as to say that Lefkowitz “certainly has no say on what American policy will be in the six-party talks,” dismissing his negative position on the failure of North Korea to meet its obligations. The White House later stated that North Korea must make a full declaration of its nuclear activities before being removed from the list.

Five officials from the DPRK recently visited the United States in order to learn how to treat and prevent tuberculosis, a serious concern for the North that is “practically non-existent in most developed countries.” The officials were invited by The Korea Society, which is based in New York.

DPRK-PRC Relations

According to the PRC General Administration of Customs, China’s oil exports to North Korea were the same in 2007 as they were in 2006. China sent 523,160 tons of oil to North Korea in 2007.

A senior PRC Communist Party official traveled to Pyongyang for a meeting with Kim Jong Il on January 30. Wang Jiarui, director of the International Liaison Department of the Chinese communist party, was to convey a message to Kim, inviting him to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. While Kim reportedly told Wang that there would be no change in the DPRK stance on nuclear negotiations, he also assured the Chinese envoy that North Korea had no intention of harming DPRK-PRC relations.

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‘Vaccine diplomacy’ to launch in North Korea

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Joong Ang Daily
Jung Ha-won
1/14/2008

The International Vaccine Institute, a Seoul-based international organization that develops and produces vaccines for developing countries, will begin innoculating an estimated 6,000 North Korean children against bacterial meningitis and Japanese encephalitis later this month, John Clemens, the director general of the institute, said in an interview with the JoongAng Daily.

Clemens, who has spearheaded the $500,000 project since last May, said vaccines can build understanding, and the latest project will help establish “vaccine diplomacy” between South and North Korea, too.

“One thing people commonly do not recognize is that malnutrition is a problem not only of not enough food. Infectious diseases, especially diarrheal diseases, are a major exacerbator of malnutrition in children,” he said. Clemens and four other researchers at the institute have visited North Korea since October to set up programs to vaccinate 3,000 children each in Nampo and Sariwon, near Pyongyang. “Food is obviously essential in addressing malnutrition, but we need to tackle both supply of food and control of infectious diseases.”

Clemens stressed that vital vaccines have often been used as a tool to forge peace in the most conflict-ravaged areas.

“Because vaccines are non-controversial and non-political they are an ideal mechanism to bring people together,” he said. “So we feel in a very small way that our work with North Korea is also an example of vaccine diplomacy, and we have a very good and trusting relationship with our North Korean colleagues in our joint efforts to vaccinate North Korean kids.”

The institute, established in 1999 and headquartered in South Korea, develops vaccines against diseases common in developing countries.

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Santa Claus Crossed the Tumen River

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin
12/27/2007

DailyNk met a missionary, Jeon Myung Woo, in front of the Sanhe Custom House. He is a Korean-Chinese who visits and brings aid to North Korean orphanages and accommodations for Kotjebi (begging children) every year. He belongs to a church in Yanbian and is in charge of missionary work to the North Korean people.

– Please briefly describe your aid activities for North Korea.

We share food, dry milk, medicine and clothes gathered by members of the church with which I am affiliated with North Korean children and the elderly when we visit North Korea. Once we enter the North, we bring around 1-5 tons of aid materials.

(more…)

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

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Daily NK
Yang Jung A
11/5/2007

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.”

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South Korea’s Average Life Span 78 years – North Korea’s 64…a 14-year Difference

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Daily NK
Namgung Min
10/23/2007

North Korean civilians’ average life span was disclosed to be approximately 14-years lower than the average life span in South Korea.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said through inspection documents of the administration on “North Korea’s Health and Medical Situation,” which was recently submitted to the National Assembly.

According to this document, the North Korean civilians’ average life span is 61.4 years for males and 67.3 for females, an average of 64.3 years. For South Korea, the average is 78.1 years, with 74.4 for males and 81.8 for females.

The significant difference in average life span for North and South Korea reflects the fact that the severely worsened medical environment in North Korea.

According to the document, North Korean teenage boys’ smoking rate is supposed to be at an extremely alarming level. In the case of 16-year old males, the smoking rate is around 59.9%. This exceeds by 20.7% the smoking rate of South Korea high school students, provided by the Korean Association of Smoking and Health.

Cigarettes in North Korea, in contrast to South Korean cigarettes, contain a very high level of tar and nicotine content as well as higher toxicity, due to the fact that cigarettes lack filters or are hand-made.

One defector said, “In North Korea, even very young children smoke cigarettes without reservation and easily come in contact with them because they do not have much else to do.”

The document also revealed that 32~40% of North Korea’s 20~34 year olds show signs of malnutrition and approximately 34~36% of them are anemic patients.

These results can be attributed to North Korea’s continuous food shortage situation; disease rates due to malnutrition and anemic are high.

North Korea’s birth rate is 1.94, higher than South Korea’s 1.19. However, the infant mortality rate, between `99~`02, was 23.5 per 1,000 persons, but conversely, the `06 mortality rate was 42 persons, 14 times higher than South Korea’s (at 3 persons).
The health span (a period without sickness or handicap) is 52.3 years old (based on 2000 data), a significant decrease from South Korea’s 67.8 years (in 2005).

The reason why North Korea’s health and medical situation is so tenuous as shown above is due to the lack of the state’s investment in this area. The actual situation is that there is an unmistakable gap between North Korea’s single dollar payment for a person’s health and medical fee and South Korea’s $625.

Further, in North Korea, it is extremely difficult to obtain basic medical goods, such as cold medicine or antibiotics.

One defector who escaped in 2005 said, “In North Korea, even if one wants to go to the hospital, he or she cannot receive treatment without any money and there is not even a full equipment of medicine. It is much easier to buy medicine in the jangmadang than in a hospital, because there is more variety and it is more easily obtainable. Only, the price of medicine, compared to other products, transcends the imagination.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare plans to invest 294 million won (approx. USD316,120) to modernize the People’s Hospital in Gosung and Songdo in Kaesung next year, besides continuing medical support for North Korea.

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Maternal mortality rate increases sharply in N. Korea

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Yonhap
10/15/2007

*View the UN report here

The number of North Korean women who have died while giving birth rose drastically in 2005 from five years earlier due to worsening health care conditions in the impoverished communist state, a report said Monday.

Maternal mortality rose to 370 per 100,000 births in 2005 from 67 in 2000, according to the report issued jointly by the United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

Although the rate is lower than the global average of 400 deaths per 100,000, it is 26 times higher than that of South Korea with the rate of 14 deaths per 100,000.

Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest maternal mortality rate of 900 per 100,000, followed by Southeast Asia’s 450 and East Mediterranean countries’ 420.

The comparable figures for the United States, the Western Pacific Ocean and Europe are 99, 82 and 27 respectively.

Blurb from report:

The MMR estimate for 2005 (370) was higher than the 2000 MMR (67). The predicted PMDF in 2005 was higher than in 2000, because the GDP estimate (in purchasing power parity) used in the 2005 model was approximately 75% lower than the estimate of US$ 14 996 used in the 2000 model.

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