Amoxicillin, a drug brought in by international organizations was being sold in the markets after being stolen from the hospital. At present, there are not even drugs to be stolen from the hospitals. Photographed in October 2014 by ASIAPRESS

◆In addition to the depletion of Chinese products, there is a ban on aid goods being delivered

What am I most in need of right now? Medicines, of course. Because I can't find medicine anywhere,” a woman living in North Pyongan Province, North Korea, said. It has been 11 months since Kim Jong-un blocked the Chinese border to prevent the influx of coronavirus. With imports of Chinese products almost at a halt, many people say that the most serious problem is the shortage of Chinese medicine. As such, ASIAPRESS researched the matter in North Pyongan Province and Ryanggang Province. (Kang Ji-won)

The trade statistics released by China’s customs authorities at the end of November were shocking. The total value of imports and exports between North Korea and China in October was US$1,659,000, which was 99.4% down from the same period last year, and the value of North Korean imports was only US$253,000 (down 99.9%).

The drop in trade, which has been ongoing since February, has become more noticeable since August. The likely reason is that the government has tightened import controls to guard against an influx of coronavirus, and imports have become impossible due to a shortage of foreign currency.

Domestically-produced penicillin. It is said that the shortage of drugs is so severe that fake drugs are being distributed. Photographed in North Korea in April 2015 by ASIAPRESS

While there is a shortage of all kinds of Chinese products, the depletion of medical supplies is having a serious impact on the lives of the residents. A reporting partner from Ryanggang Province described the current situation as follows:
There’s no use going to the hospital when you’re injured or sick. It’s cold outside and the hospital doesn’t have any medicine in stock, so they can’t treat you.

A medical professional explained to a reporting partner that the following Chinese-made drugs are in very short supply. They are almost impossible to obtain and are not sold anywhere.
● Amoxicillin (antibiotic, used for bronchitis)
● Metronidazole (antibacterial, effective against infections, often used in gynecology)
● Cefotaxime (antibiotic, used for infections)
● Cephalosporin antibiotics (effective against colitis, typhoid, etc.)

In addition, according to the reporting partner, Chinese-made mass-market painkillers, various intravenous drugs, cold medicines, and poultices have also disappeared from hospitals and pharmacies.

Cold medicine and painkillers are sold one tablet at a time on the black market; they used to cost 300 won, but now they are five to seven times more expensive. Even so, they are hard to get,” said a reporting partner. (100 won is about US$0.03) Furthermore, “imports from China have been halted, and theft by hospital personnel is no longer possible,’ he said.
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