A South Korean pharmaceutical association said Wednesday it had provided North Korea with drugs worth about 3 billion won (US$3.25 million) in May in response to a request from the impoverished country.
In February, the North Korean Red Cross Society sent a letter requesting antibiotics, tuberculosis medicine, pneumonia medications, and other basic drugs, the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (KPMA) said.
“Drugs made in the South are precious to us because medicines from China are often fake and not fitting to the North Korean constitution,” the society was quoted as saying in the letter.
The North even requested drugs that have outlived their shelf life, underscoring its urgent need for basic drugs, the KPMA said, adding that it had rejected the request for safety reasons.
In late 2006, the North was hit by an outbreak of scarlet fever, which led to travel bans and school closings, according to reports. The country’s east coast was also reported to have been struck by a series of infectious diseases in January, affecting up to 4,000 people.
North seeks medicine, even if expired for a year
Joong Ang Daily
A letter from a Red Cross hospital official in North Korea did not mince words. “We welcome any donation of medicine, even if its expiration date has passed,” the official said.
Moon Kyung-tae, vice chairman of the Seoul-based Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, said yesterday the official sent the letter through a civic group, Unification Affairs Research Institute, in February.
The North is willing to take medicine that has expired for up to a year, Moon said, and also was willing to accept responsibility for any problems that might arise.
However, Moon said, “We just cannot do that.”
The association sends about 5 billion won ($5.4 million) worth of medical aid packages to the North every year, but the amount is not nearly enough for what is needed.
In 2005, the South provided support to build pharmaceutical factories in the North, but the facilities could not operate properly due to water and electricity shortages.
The country is extremely vulnerable to epidemics. In October, scarlet fever, which can be treated by taking three pills a day for 10 days, broke out in the North. A significant number of children and the elderly died because they lacked the proper medicine, sources well-informed about the North’s situation said.