Amnesty International reveals the rotting health care system in North Korea

Published on July 15, 2010 at 11:14 PM · No Comments

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

According to a human rights group, Amnesty International, North Korea is unable to meet up to even the most basic health needs of its population. The report was released this Thursday.

After widespread interviews with North Korean defectors the group found appalling facts like lack of essential medicines and also major operations like amputations being carried out without anaesthetic. Among other findings is the use of un-sterile hypodermic needles, patients kept on unwashed sheets, lack of running water, heating and electricity etc. There are cities with no ambulance services whatsoever. The interviews were given by more than 40 North Koreans who had defected over the past six years, as well as with health professionals who had worked with North Koreans. Norma Kang Muico is based in Seoul and is the author of the report.

State of affairs including political climate, food shortages, onslaught of nuclear testing and chronic neglect of the welfare of people was reflected in the report. With lack of food many are resorting to eating grass, tree bark and roots. Poor nutrition has given rise to incidence of tuberculosis says the report. Many are fleeing the country to escape adversities ever since the 1990s. Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Asia-Pacific said, “The North Korean people are in critical need of medical and food aid… It is crucial that aid to North Korea is not used as a political football by donor countries.”

The 50 page report said that North Korea claims to provide free treatment for its entire population but the reality is different. Many patients are forced to pay with cash cigarettes, alcohol and food – a condition that has lasted the last two decades. The report reads, “Many North Koreans bypass doctors altogether, going straight to the markets to buy medicine, self-medicating according to their own guesswork or the advice of market vendors…The North Korean authorities recently banned a highly addictive narcotic painkiller that many North Koreans routinely used as a cure-all.”

At present according to the World Health Organization, North Korea spends less on health care than any other country in the world – less than 1 US dollar per person per year.

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