+ A

South to send flu meds North this week

Shipment will be first humanitarian aid sent by gov’t since 2009
Jan 09,2019
The South Korean government will send influenza medicine to the North later this week, the South’s Unification Ministry said on Tuesday.

It will be the first humanitarian aid the South Korean government has sent the North in nearly a decade.

The Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Council decided to ship around 200,000 doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral medication used to treat influenza, to the North on Friday at a cost of around 3.56 billion won ($3.2 million), a ministry official said. That price tag includes purchase costs for the medicine, as well as shipping costs financed through the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund.

A total of 50,000 first aid kits donated by a private organization in the South will also be included in the aid package.

“We exchanged information about the spread of influenza during discussions last year, and the North said there were around 300,000 suspected cases of influenza, including around 150,000 diagnoses from late 2017 to early 2018,” the ministry official said. “Our aid package took into account the level of demand in the North and our level of preparations.”

The medicine is tentatively set to be transferred by land route to the North’s border town of Kaesong on Friday - though the schedule may be subject to change, according to the ministry official.

The shipment will be accompanied by around 10 South Korean officials from the Unification and Health Ministries.

This aid package will be the first humanitarian assistance sent by the South Korean government to the North since Seoul imposed sanctions on the North following the March 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

The South Korean government supplied the North with 50 tons of chemicals to control pine tree pests technically classified as humanitarian aid following a series of forestry talks last year, but the Tamiflu shipping is the first time aid has been given to the North’s people since the Moon Jae-in administration assumed power in the South in 2017.

In their third summit in Pyongyang last September, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases through close cooperative efforts.

This was followed by meetings by health officials from the two Koreas in Kaesong in November and a working-level discussion on Dec. 12, after which the South announced that it would provide Tamiflu to the North.

Seoul also verified that its medical aid was not in violation of international sanctions against the North with the United States at the end of last year, when the two countries held working-level discussions in the South’s capital.

As a final step, the South’s Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Council, an official body composed of government officials and civilian experts tasked with reviewing inter-Korean exchange projects, ratified the aid package after more than a week of consultations that ended on Tuesday.

The last time the South Korean government provided medical aid to the North was back in 2009 when it shipped 400,000 doses of Tamiflu and 100,000 doses of Relenza, another flu medication, via a land route on the western coast.

“We hope this medical aid can improve the health situation of the North Korean people and also check the wider spread of influenza as inter-Korean exchanges continue, for the betterment of the health of all Koreans,” the ministry official said.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]