N.Koreans Are Easy Prey for Infectious Diseases

  • By Kim Dong-seop, Lee Ki-hun

    November 24, 2017 11:47

    North Koreans are easy prey for a wide range of infectious diseases that have often been eradicated in the developed world. A stark example was provided by the parasites found in the gut of a North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea last week, which doctors here said they had simply never seen before.

    Global health organizations say that many North Koreans suffer from hepatitis B, with which the soldier was also diagnosed, as well as malaria and other diseases.

    Ki Mo-ran at the National Cancer Center said, "Infectious diseases account for 31 percent of deaths in North Korea, which is far higher than the 5.6 percent rate in Korea." 

    Tuberculosis affects 513 out of every 100,000 North Koreans, 6.7 times more than in South Korea, and 11,000 people die from tuberculosis, five times more than in South Korea. According to the Eugene Bell Foundation, which is involved in aid work in North Korea, 31.4 percent of people suffering from the disease or 4,000-5,000 people there are stricken by multi-drug-resistant strains, the highest rate in the world.

    North Korea ranks second only after South Africa in terms of reported cases of tuberculosis. 

    Eleven percent of the population are estimated to have hepatitis B, which can progress into chronic hepatitis and liver cancer. This is a level not seen in South Korea since the 1980s.

    Malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is rampant along the inter-Korean border and also affects South Koreans living in parts of Gyeonggi and Gangwon provinces.

    Ki at the National Cancer Center said, "Tuberculosis and hepatitis B are difficult to treat and can progress into chronic stages. We urgently need to supply North Koreans with drugs, since treating them after reunification will be hugely expensive and take a long time."

    International aid groups are trying to bring tuberculosis treatments to North Koreans, but the fatality rate remains high. Health checks of North Korean defectors show just how serious this problem is. A National Assembly audit in 2013 found that 5.4 percent of defectors suffered from tuberculosis.

    Experts say most tuberculosis patients in the North are between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working age.

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