Kim Jong-un on a visit to the Samjiyon Tourist Zone construction site after major snowfall. Published in the Rodong Sinmun in November 2018.

◆ Hospitals lack funds to purchase coal and firewood for heating

North Korea is in the middle of its harsh winter season, but ordinary people are facing increasing difficulties obtaining enough coal and firewood for heating in the intense cold. With the coming of the new year, even major hospitals in provincial areas of the country are unable to heat their facilities, forcing hospital staff to send people with light diseases back home. (KANG Ji-won)

A recent report by a reporting partner in Yanggang Province highlighted the severity of the situation.

“As we entered the winter season, the government ordered medical institutions to ensure they have proper supplies of fuel (for heating), but even major municipal and provincial hospitals in the provinces lacked the funds to obtain heating fuel, leading them to send home everyone start on January 5, except for emergency cases and those suffering from severe disease. Doctors are doing their rounds (at people’s homes) around once every two days.”

The authorities ordered state-run companies to supply coal and firewood needed by hospitals for heating; however, the jump in vehicle fuel prices made it impossible for the companies to transport the heating fuel to hospitals. Unable to heat their facilities, municipal and provincial hospitals forcibly discharged their patients back to their homes.

◆ Ordinary people can’t buy firewood because they have no incomes

“I know someone whose appendix burst in the early days of this year and had to undergo major surgery. His wounds hadn’t yet been healed, but he was taken from his hospital bed on a stretcher back to his home to rest. A doctor from the hospital visits him for a checkup about once every two days,” a reporting partner told ASIAPRESS.

North Korean hospitals have long had serious problems heating their facilities in the winter months. They have lacked the money to buy heating fuel, forcing patients and their families to bring firewood and blankets themselves for heating purposes.

The Kim Jong-un regime’s overreaching anti-coronavirus prevention policies have worsened the country’s economic situation, which has dried up the incomes of many urban dwellers. Unable to buy firewood, most people can’t even heat their own homes. “Hospital patients who can’t bring firewood (to the hospital) are unable to get treatment there,” the reporting partner said.

North Korea also faces a lack of medications. Now, in addition to the difficulties hospitals face in heating their facilities, the country is confronting a continued collapse of its medical system.

A hospital room in a hospital in Yanggang Province. A patient can be seen lying on a bed. Taken by ASIAPRESS in April 2015.

◆ The government orders companies to watch for “fake illnesses” among workers

Amid a situation where many hospital patients are returning home, North Korea’s government has ordered state-run companies to monitor whether people are faking diseases so they can pretend to be getting medical treatment at home and not go to work.

“Companies are designating staff specifically to monitor whether workers are faking illnesses or not. The staff visit the homes of discharged hospital patients to investigate their status. There have even been fights breaking out among the staff and the families of patients because they’re upset the companies just care about faking illnesses and not the health of the patients themselves.

“The authorities believe that people avoiding work are committing anti-socialist acts and are causing problems because they are not participating in sessions set aside to study Workers’ Party instructions, criticism sessions, and other aspects of the country’s organizational life.”

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.