(Photo) Domestically-produced penicillin. Currently, there is a shortage of drugs, and many fake drugs are being sold. Photographed in North Korea in April 2015 by ASIAPRESS.


◆ Pyongyang's shortage of medical supplies appears to be improving

A malignant strain of influenza is spreading in North Korea. As the severe medicine shortage continues, the health authorities are implementing substantial restrictions, including limiting the attendance of staff in companies (Kang Ji-won).

Our reporting partner, who lives in the northern region, states that influenza began to spread in mid-November. It is called the "10-day flu" because it is highly contagious, and the number of patients is rapidly increasing, with severe symptoms lasting for ten days.

"There were a lot of patients with cold symptoms, so the authorities were worried that it might be a coronavirus outbreak, and they quarantined those with symptoms, but it turned out to be influenza. Since influenza spreads rapidly through the workplace, the quarantine station has instructed people not to go to work."

North Korea has severely restricted trade with China to prevent coronavirus, and Chinese medicines have been out of stock since last year. Doctors have been trying to prescribe domestically-produced drugs instead, but many people do not take them because of their low efficacy. People are trying to seek foreign medicines, even if they are expired, but they are difficult to obtain. As a result, since last year, many older people and infants have been dying of common illnesses such as colds and diarrhoea.

“The officials told me that they have been importing medicines from China, and little by little, medicines made in China have started to appear in and around Pyongyang. However, since they are prescribed by hospitals and sold only through pharmacies, it is difficult for individual traders to purchase them, and they are still not distributed in the countryside and are in low supply."

According to statistics released by China’s General Administration of Customs, North Korea imported $3,858,369 worth of "mixed or unmixed products, medicines in measured doses or retail packages" in September and $1,879,756 worth in October. However, further details are not available.

It seems that the severe shortage of medicines may be improving slightly but, so far, only in Pyongyang.

※ ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.