North Korea confirmed on Friday his first death due to the COVID-19 and declared that the “fever” was spreading “explosively” throughout the country, which has one of the worst health systems in the world, and an unvaccinated population.
– What health system do you have? –
The health system is officially one of the worst in the worldranked 193rd out of 195 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University survey in 2021.
According to the authorities, health care is free for all, but NGOs say that the population has long had to pay for essential medical services, usually in cigarettes or alcohol.
Patient families must buy medicines on the black market and doctors are forced to practice clandestine care to make a livingaccording to Sokeel Park, of the agency Liberty in North Korea.
There are no hospitals with intensive care units in rural areas or small towns, where the majority of North Korea’s 25 million people live, says researcher Choi Jung-hun, who before becoming a turncoat worked as a doctor in Korea of the North.
– What is the health of the population? –
Very little is known about the health of the population, but the World Health Organization (WHO) declared in 2018 that non-communicable diseases such as diabetes are responsible for 84% of deaths in North Korea.
Ahn Chan-il, a turncoat-turned-investigator, said poor health, especially due to malnutrition, makes North Korea highly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Most North Koreans suffer from chronic malnutrition,” reiterates Lina Yoon, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
– They are ready? –
North Korea closed its borders two years ago, cutting off trade, suspending flights and ordering anyone crossing the border illegally from China to be shot.
Pyongyang says that this has allowed it to keep the virus at bay, but has not taken the opportunity to vaccinate its population. Last year he rejected an offer of three million doses of Chinese vaccine, saying they should be given to “countries that need it most”.
It also refused the proposed AstraZeneca vaccine under the WHO’s Covax programme. According to the WHO, North Korea and Eritrea are the only countries that have not launched a vaccination campaign.
– What material? –
State media claimed this week that North Korea had used “gene analysis” to diagnose sick COVID patients, but experts say the country’s testing capabilities are severely limited.
The country also does not have quarantine centers or material for cold storage of mRNA vaccines.
North Korea’s precarious health system may prevent people suffering from side effects from vaccines from being treated, which could explain the refusal to donate vaccines, according to experts.
Malnutrition is further thought to affect the quality of an individual’s immune response to vaccination.
– Can the world help? –
China, South Korea and the WHO They immediately offered their support. The new government in Seoul declared itself willing to send vaccines.
But the Kim Jong Un regime, which carried out test firings of three banned ballistic missiles hours after the announcement of the first COVID cases, does not seem to want international help.
Experts believe, however, that he will have no choice but to accept such help.
In addition, by publicly announcing in the international media that it is facing a massive epidemic, the Pyongyang regime sends “an indirect message that in the future it could ask the United States or international organizations for help with vaccines,” according to Yang Moo. -jin, professor at the university of north korean studies.