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North Korea’s shocking conditions

Nov 17,2017
The health and sanitation conditions of North Korea came under the spotlight again after a North Korean soldier has been treated in a South Korean hospital for gunshot wounds he sustained from his comrades while defecting across the demilitarized zone. The soldier underwent surgery at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon to treat multiple wounds in his buttocks, arms and knee. Doctors said that permanent nerve injury or paralysis may be inevitable. Moreover, there may be a higher risk of infection due to the high amount of feces and intestinal parasites found in the man’s abdomen and digestive system.

Dr. Lee Guk-jong, a trauma specialist best known for treating the captain of the Samho Jewelry after he was shot during a rescue mission, said that the prognosis is expected to be worse than general trauma patients and that there was a possibility of unknown infection due to the patient’s poor health. He said some parasites were 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) long and have rarely been found in South Korea.

The defector’s condition underscores just how bad North Korea’s sanitation is. Most of North Korea’s rural residents could be seriously infected. Food is at least regularly supplied to North Korean soldiers. But regular rations for common residents have long been stopped. Many people live off whatever they can find and consume food without ample preparation.

Farming is mostly done with human manure. Therefore, food can be easily contaminated. Hong Sung-tae, a doctor at Seoul National University, said that a 2005 survey by Yanbian University discovered parasitic roundworms in the intestines of more than half of the population of Hoeryong in the North Hamgyong province of North Korea. This is as bad as the condition of South Koreans right after the war. On top of the poor sanitation conditions, there are not enough anti-parasitic drugs to treat those who have been infected. Instead of spending the country’s entire riches and resources to develop weapons, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must pay more attention to the health of his people.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 16, Page 30