Intestinal disease new worry for North Korea

Intestinal disease new worry for North Korea

Concern that latest outbreak could be cholera or typhoid in country already reeling from Covid

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown helping to prepare medicines to send to Haeju City in a photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday. (KCNA Photo via Reuters)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown helping to prepare medicines to send to Haeju City in a photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday. (KCNA Photo via Reuters)

North Korea says that hundreds of families have fallen ill with an unidentified intestinal disease, heaping pressure on a crumbling healthcare system already strained by Covid-19.

Pyongyang announced its first coronavirus cases last month and activated a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”, with leader Kim Jong Un putting himself front and centre of the government’s response.

Even so, the virus tore through the unvaccinated population of 25 million, with more than 4.5 million cases of “fever” and 73 deaths to date, according to figures published by state media but difficult to confirm.

Building on the country’s troubles, the official KCNA this week announced a new “acute enteric epidemic” in South Hwanghae province, with Kim urging officials to “contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible”.

In a possible sign of the seriousness of the situation, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, was one of a group of senior officials who reportedly personally donated medicine to try and help.

The medicine will be delivered to “over 800 families suffering from the acute epidemic which broke out in some areas of South Hwanghae Province”, KCNA reported on Friday.

The figure suggests at least 1,600 people have been infected with the enteric disease.

The reports have sparked speculation that the unspecified disease may be cholera or typhoid.

If confirmed ,the outbreak could worsen the country’s chronic food shortages, as South Hwanghae is one of the North’s main agricultural regions.

Experts have warned of a major public health emergency in the North, which has one of the world’s worst medical care systems, should Covid spread.

The impoverished country has poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs or mass testing capability.

“With the North’s much outdated medical infrastructure, an acute intestinal sickness could flare at any time,” an official from the unification ministry in Seoul said, according to Yonhap news agency.

Seoul is willing to assist the North in handling the new outbreak should Pyongyang wish to accept help, the official said.

South Korea previously offered to send vaccines and other medical aid to the North to help it deal with its coronavirus outbreak.

Pyongyang has not officially responded.


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