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N. Korea allows charity group to expand TB program to more districts

All Headlines 17:25 October 17, 2019

By Yi Won-ju

SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has allowed a charity group to expand its tuberculosis (TB) control project beyond Pyongyang in an indication that the communist nation recognizes the seriousness of the problem, the chief of the organization said Thursday.

Stephen Linton, chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation based in the United States and South Korea, made the remark during a press conference in Seoul after foundation officials made a three-week visit last month.

"North Korean authorities helped us to broaden our TB diagnosis program to areas outside Pyongyang," Linton said. "North Korea has opened the doors for us to facilitate the eradication of tuberculosis, and allowed us to freely register and treat patients in the designated districts during our visit."

The expansion would not have been possible if the North had not recognized the seriousness of tuberculosis, he said.

"An official at North Korea's Ministry of Public Health said that the first, second and third big problems facing the country are all tuberculosis," Linton said.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, around 130,000 North Koreans were diagnosed with TB in 2017 and around 16,000 died from the disease.

Around 700 new patients registered during their recent trip, bringing up the total number of patients in the program to 1,800, according to the foundation.

The foundation also plans to ask the U.N. Security Council for a sanctions exemption on medical vans to provide early diagnosis of the disease and medical services for patients living in remote areas.

Linton called for South Korea's support in providing anti-tuberculosis drugs to North Korea, warning that the impoverished country may run out of medication by June next year.

Stephen Linton, head of the U.S.-based charity group Eugene Bell Foundation, holds a news conference in Seoul on Oct. 17, 2019, to give a briefing on a September visit by a group of its officials to North Korea. The foundation sends its officials to North Korea in the spring and fall every year as part of its medical aid project. (Yonhap)

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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