Explanation: How the outbreak of Covid-19 in North Korea could cause a major health crisis

SEOUL: North KoreaThe recognition that it is fighting an “explosive” outbreak of COVID-19 has raised fears that the virus could devastate a country with insufficient health system resources, limited testing opportunities and no vaccine program.
The isolated North confirmed its first Covid-19 infections on Thursday since the pandemic emerged more than two years ago, moving to the “Maximum Emergency Prevention System” and imposing a national blockade. On Friday, he announced his first death related to Covid.
State media have not confirmed the total number of Covid-19 cases so far, but said more than 350,000 people have shown symptoms of fever since late April.
Along with Eritrea, North Korea is one of two countries that have not launched a Covid-19 vaccination campaign, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
The global COVAX vaccine sharing program Covid-19 has reduced the number of doses distributed to North Korea, as the country has so far failed to organize any deliveries, according to reports due to international monitoring requirements.
Pyongyang has also turned down offers of vaccines from China.
The last reported assessment of whether a leader Kim Jong Un has been vaccinated since July 2021, when the South Korean spy agency said there were no indications that he had received an injection.
North Korea said last year it had developed its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment to test for coronavirus, and Russia said it had delivered a small number of test kits.
But North Korea has been heavily sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program and has maintained strict border restrictions since 2020, blocking many supplies.
Experts say the pace of testing so far suggests North Korea can’t handle the number of symptomatic cases it reports.
As of the end of March, only 64,207 of North Korea’s 25 million people had been tested for Covidand all results are negative, according to the latest WHO data.
“North Korea tests about 1,400 people each week. Assuming they were at their maximum capacity, then they can perform a maximum of 400 tests a day – not enough to test 350,000 people with symptoms,” said Key Park of Harvard Medical School, which worked on health projects in North Korea.
It is unclear whether North Korea has imposed any mask mandates since the start of the pandemic. Sometimes citizens were seen wearing masks, but also going out without masks to some major political events that mobilized tens of thousands of people.
Kim was shown for the first time in a mask at Covid’s response meeting on Thursday.
North Korea ranks last in the world for its ability to respond quickly and mitigate the spread of the epidemic, according to the latest global health security index from December.
Although it has a large number of trained doctors and the ability to quickly deploy and organize emergency personnel, North Korea’s health care system is chronically understaffed.
Each North Korean village has one or two clinics or hospitals, and most district hospitals are equipped with X-ray facilities, “although not necessarily functional,” the WHO said in its 2014-2019 report on the country’s co-operation strategy.
Kuon Yang-se, South Korea’s new candidate for unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, said in a confirmation hearing Thursday that the North is believed to lack even the most basic medical supplies such as painkillers and disinfectants.
An independent UN human rights investigator said in March that restrictions on Northern Covid-19, including border closures, could prevent mass outbreaks, “albeit probably at a significant cost to the wider health situation.”
“Chronic problems affect the country’s health system, including insufficient investment in infrastructure, medical staff, equipment and medicines, irregular power supplies and inadequate water and sanitation facilities,” the report said.
The outbreak could pose a political challenge for the authoritarian leader of the North, said North Koreans who have fled to the south.
“Kim has ordered the mobilization of medical supplies, which means North Korea will now use military reserves and that general hospitals have run out of medicine,” said Tae Yin-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who fled the south in 2016. he is now an MP.
Ji Son-ho, another South Korean lawmaker who left the North in 2006, said the virus could spread quickly, in part due to a lack of a functioning medical system.
“A huge number of people died during the famine (1990s) after the typhus broke out. “It was a nightmare for the North Korean regime and for the North Korean people,” Ji told a parliamentary session.

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