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N. Korea' 'free' medical service in deplorable state: sources

All Headlines 10:13 March 13, 2016

SEOUL, March 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's "free" medical service has degenerated into a deplorable state with patients compelled to pay for treatment and to even procure drugs on their own, sources familiar with the isolationist country claimed Sunday.

According to multiple sources that maintain clandestine ties with ordinary North Koreans, the North medical service sector has been hit hard by poor economic conditions and shortages of medicine.

"It is an open secret that people wanting treatment must pay hospitals and clinics and that on occasion procure their own drugs," an insider, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

He claimed that people who just could not pay had to give up getting medical treatment altogether and rely on unproven home remedies.

Others said that weak medical infrastructure and unsanitary living conditions are causing outbreaks of malaria, tuberculosis and hand-foot-and-mouth disease which are usually easy to treat and contain.

Reflecting this, the United Nations World Health Organization said the number of tuberculosis cases per 100,000 person in the North has been rising steadily over the year.

In 2010, there were some 395 patients per 100,000, but this rose to 442 in 2014.

In addition, there have been reports from aid groups that the North suffers from shortages of basic drugs and medical equipment like penicillin, anesthetics and even syringes.

"There have been cases where patients have undergone surgery without anesthetics," a aid worker said. He said such shortages have caused people to buy such items themselves to give to doctors.

He then said that there have been reports of medical personnel selling off drugs for profit as well as a circulation of fake drugs, like pain killers and injection drugs.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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