GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 323 Special Edition January 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics No. 323]
H1N1 Flu Widespread in Pyongyang
Relief Medication from South Korea Insufficient for Pyongyang
Universities Start on January 9th Nationwide
Political Prisoner Detention Center Employee’s Two Children Infected with H1N1 Flu

[Editorial]
Additional Aid Needed to Prevent Further Spread of H1N1 Flu in North Korea
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[Hot Topics No. 323]
H1N1 Flu Widespread in Pyongyang

A medical official in Pyongyang reported a continued spread of H1N1 flu in Pyongyang. Child day-care centers and kindergartens are closed, affecting married couples who both go to work. There are series of deaths of children in the child care facilities that have already been quarantined. Moreover, the severe winter weather brought flu epidemic as well. The medical official expressed his wish: “It is getting harder for us alone to fight the disease. I wish some external help come to save these innocent and poor people in a more proactive and massive scale.”

Relief Medication from South Korea Insufficient for Pyongyang
H1N1 flu medication aid from South Korea is reported to be provided mainly in Pyongyang, and the priority was given to the endemic areas within the city of Pyongyang. One government official explained that the medication is not sufficient enough to reach the provinces. The medication delivered to the provinces was made available first to officials such as provincial party officials. So, it has not reached the average residents yet. In the provinces, provision of medicine seriously falls behind the rapid spread of H1N1 flu. Moreover, trading with China practically stopped after currency revaluation, aggravating the situation. Local hospitals in epidemic areas like Sinuiju, North Hamgyong Province are reported experiencing serious difficulties with obtaining even small amount of glucose and saline solution.

Universities Start on January 9th Nationwide
After implementing early winter break due to H1N1 flu, Departments of Education in provincial parties across the nation are adjusting the academic schedule in the New Year. Universities and vocational schools in North Pyongan Province decided to continue the H1N1 flu break until January 7th, summon the students on the 8th, and start classes on the next day. Details have not been decided for Middle and Elementary Schools yet, but they are expected to start around the 27th depending on the prevalence of H1N1 flu. After observing the situation, schools will open as planned if the epidemic comes to a halt. The schedule is to be readjusted if there is no sign of calming down.

Political Prisoner Detention Center Employee’s Two Children Infected with H1N1 Flu
After the H1N1 infection of 2 children of a Hwasung County Political Prisoner Detention Center employee in North Hamgyong Province was confirmed, access to and from the detention center was severely restricted since December 28. Even when the security agents of the detention center need to leave to execute official duties, a pass is issued only for cases with significant level of urgency. A leading official said, “Once H1N1 flu breaks out among the prisoners, the operation of support facilities of National Security Agency can be affected, so we are highly cautious.” He said the alert for the epidemic is not because of the concerns about the prisoners’ health, but because of the lack of replacement laborers who can do their work.

[Editorial]
Additional Aid Needed to Prevent Further Spread of H1N1 Flu in North Korea
The H1N1 flu which broke out last November in Sinuiju and Pyongyang is said to be vigorously spreading as the weather gets colder. The flu is rampant especially in Pyongyang, forcing child day-care centers and kindergartens shut down, and many of the quarantined children are dying everyday.

For the case of H1N1, the North Korean authorities reacted much faster than any other previous cases. They admitted the outbreak of the flu to the international community and promptly accepted the South Korean aid of medicine. It is also noticeable that they designated the flu patients as No.11 urgent matter case which mandates immediate medical attention to prevent further spread by bringing national-level efforts for prevention.

However, despite the national-level efforts, lack of overall medical resources in North Korea makes it very difficult to work efficiently in dealing with prevention and stopping further spread of the flu. The casualty of H1N1 will be much higher compared to South Korea and other advanced countries where all kinds of medical equipments and resources are made available to deal with the disease. Recently, the government of South Korea sent medicine to the North in the amount that can treat 50,000 patients. That is not enough to treat patients in Pyongyang alone, leaving patients in other areas without any treatment at all. Pyongyang always receives all kinds of resources first. So, if people in Pyongyang are suffering from a lack of medicine, the conditions outside of the capital city must be even worse.

Considering the danger of H1N1 flu, North Korea should release the number of casualty and the current status of H1N1 spread in their country, and appeal for international aid. In addition, it should report the result of relief medicine distribution to South Korean government and appeal for more aid.

The international community and the South Korean government should react swiftly to the North’s appeal. With the North Korean government’s cooperation, they should explore ways to provide aid first to the most vulnerable communities, areas, and classes. Moreover, sufficient amount of basic medical supplies and other hygiene facilities should be provided in addition to vaccines so that the medical care can cover rural areas as well.

Although the first news of the New Year is tragic one, we hope that it can be used as a stepping stone for building a positive and cooperative relationship between the two Koreas.

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