North Korean Medical Care is Good (DPRK Week Day 6)

Despite the typical baseless anti-North Korean propaganda, North Korea is acknowledged by the World Health Organization as having a health care system that is, and I quote:

“…based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have [a health care system] that most other developing countries would envy.”

– Margaret Chan, Director General of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, April 2010

I would think that Director General of the U.N.’s World Health Organization is actually a pretty good source of information on health care. Dr Margaret Chan spoke quite highly of the North Korean medical system in complete contrast to the baseless accusations made by other “organizations”. Here are some of the points she made on the reality of health care in the DPRK:

• Good immunization coverage. Childhood immunization coverage averages 90%
and above.

• Effective implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions, very good DOTS coverage for tuberculosis and success in controlling a recent resurgence of malaria. WHO is currently providing substantial financial and commodity support to improve maternal and child health and to maintain malaria control.

• The opening of a telemedicine facility established in 2008-2009 is very important in using information and communication technology to extend access to health care and improve its quality, especially in remote areas. As you well know, 80% of the country’s land is quite mountainous. It also opens possibilities for better training of health staff and better disease surveillance.

• Finally, the provision of primary health care has a very prominent place in the health system. I noted the large number of family doctors, and in DPRK they call them household doctors, offering services at facilities and also through reaching out to families.

Frankly, pretty much the Third World can’t even get anywhere close to this. This is a tremendous achievement despite all the obstacles placed upon them by the US led embargo. Even with these achievements there are still some areas that need to be improved as well, which Dr. Chan also detailed:

• The health system requires further strengthening in order to sustain the
governments policy of universal coverage, and of course to improve the quality of services.

• More investments are required to upgrade infrastructure and equipment, to ensure adequate supply of medicines and other commodities, and to ensure the correct skill mix of the health workforce.

• Greater emphasis is needed on nutrition and lifestyle related disease like cancers, heart diseases and stroke, along with more efforts in tobacco control.

Clearly most of these problems would easily be solved by removing the US embargo against North Korea. However, the people in North Korea do smoke quote a bit. The campaign to end smoking is a truly difficult one in any country.

Now during my research I came across this report by Amnesty International that spoke quite hellishly about the health care situation in the DPRK. It made numerous claims and practically called for the country to be invaded in order to save lives. Which is the usual excuse for imperialist invasion. This AI report was parroted by everyone and touted as so-called proof of the “evil socialist regime”. One big supporter of this report was the Republican owned, Christian Fundamentalist Heritage Foundation. They spoke in agonizing terms about how this “proves” the evil of North Korea and socialism, while then giving an additional source, FOX News. Here is what the Amnesty International report actually said:

“Interviews with North Koreans depict a country that professes to have a universal (free) health care system but in reality struggles to provide even the most basic service to the population. Health facilities are rundown and operate with frequent power cuts and no heat. Medical personnel often do not receive salaries, and many hospitals function without medicines and other essentials. As doctors have begun charging for their services, which is illegal under North Korea’s universal health care system, the poor cannot access full medical care, especially medicines and surgery.”

– The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea

Personally I find Amnesty International to be a highly dubious source of information on anything. The problem is they have tons of unearned respect giving them “credibility”. Once this report began circulating people began attacking Dr Margaret Chan saying all kinds of nasty things about her. In response to the report, World Health Organization analyzed it:

The WHO said Amnesty’s report was based on a small sample of people who had left North Korea, some as long ago as 2001.

“All the facts are from people who aren’t in the country,” WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said in Geneva.

“There’s no science in the research.”

Mr Garwood said Amnesty’s report did not mention recent improvements to North Korea’s health care brought about by a programme funded by South Korea and aided by the WHO.

As to Amnesty’s claim that people had to pay cash or barter for medical care, Mr Garwood said many field missions in North Korea had not uncovered this practice.

– BBC Report on the WHO Response

After having read this I am now absolutely convinced that Amnesty International is a disreputable organization. They have proven themselves to be tools of imperialism. Any credibility they ever had with anyone should now be gone. I encourage everyone not to give any money to this organization.

Oh, and one more thing: Heritage Foundation, I’m still waiting on you to approve my comment giving the link to the BBC article showing that your source for the supposedly bad health care in North Korea to be a fraud.

Margaret Chan’s Statement
Amnesty International Report (The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea)
Heritage Foundation Slanderous Blog Post
WHO Statement on Amnesty International’s Report