World · June 17, 2022

North Korea says hundreds of families are sick with intestinal diseases

North Korea said on Friday that hundreds of families have fallen ill with an unidentified bowel disease, increasing the pressure on a dilapidated health 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 at the center of the government’s response.

Even so, the virus has torn the unvaccinated population by 25 million, with more than 4.5 million cases of “fever” and 73 deaths to date, according to data published by state media.

Based on the country’s problems, the official KCNA this week announced a new “acute enteric outbreak” in southern Hwanghae province, with Kim urging officials to “contain the outbreak as soon as possible.”

In a possible sign of the gravity of the situation, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, was part of a group of senior officials who would personally donate medicine to try to help.

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The drug will be delivered to “over 800 families suffering from the acute epidemic that has broken out in some areas of southern Hwanghae province,” state media KCNA reported Friday.

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

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

If confirmed, the outbreak could worsen the country’s chronic food shortage, as southern Hwanghae province is a major agricultural region in the north.

Experts have warned of a serious health emergency in the North, which has one of the worst medical care systems in the world, should Covid-19 spread.

The impoverished country has poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no drugs to treat Covid-19 or mass testing capabilities.

“With the North’s very outdated medical infrastructure, acute bowel disease could flare up at any moment,” said a Seoul Unification Ministry official, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Seoul is willing to help the North manage the new outbreak if Pyongyang wishes to accept it, the official said.

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

Pyongyang did not officially respond.

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