WHO Director-General urges investment in DPR Korean health sector
Beijing - the Democratic People's Republic of Korea needs substantial investments in its health sector to recover from the situation of the past few years.
This was the conclusion after a three day visit to the country by the World Health Organization (WHO) Director General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland.
"DPRK has a well established public health system, but outside the main cities there is also a lack of basic amenities like running water, electricity and essential drugs and equipment," Dr Brundtland told journalists upon her return from Pyongyang. "The country will need to give the health a higher priority and channel more of its own resources towards ensuring that basic health services can be provided. But it cannot do so on its own. International donors who look at meaningful assistance to DPRK should pay special attention to the health sector."
Dr Brundtland went to DPRK to discuss the health situation in the country and to open a permanent WHO Office there. WHO has assisted the country for a number of years and has had an emergency coordination office in the capital, Pyongyang , since 1997.
"Having a WHO Representative permanently in Pyongyang will help us assess needs and monitor the concrete results of any assistance given," Dr Brundtland said. "This will also assist bilateral and other donors to ensure that any assistance they give will be well coordinated and effectively spent."
DPRK struggles with a number of health problems in a population that has faced several years of food shortages. Maternal conditions, tuberculosis, malaria and children's diseases linked to malnutrition are taking a toll on the rural population.
Dr Brundtland stressed, however, that the country has taken action to fight both malaria and TB, and that she was impressed with the resolve of the health ministry and local health personnel to make the best out of the limited resources available.
"The basic health system structure traditionally reaches out to all communities and is a good building block for the future," she said. "The country has shown it can achieve impressive results by the work it has done on eradicating polio." DPRK organizes regular National Immunization Days against polio. There has not been any known cases of the crippling disease since 1996. An alliance of WHO, UNICEF and other partners aim at eradication of polio world-wide by 2005.
During her visit, Dr Brundtland met with President of the Praesidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and Health Minister Kim Su Hak.
She visited four different county and provincial health centres south of Pyongyang as well as hospitals in the capital.
In the town of Sariwon, Dr Brundtland delivered the first batch of a TB drug shipment that will treat more than 33,000 people.