A bag of hope: bringing essential medicines to remote villages in DPR Korea
By Simon Nazer
For 9 years, Dr Ri Chol Ok has been trekking door to door to bring health care to the homes of families in a remote area of DPR Korea. “I cover 122 households, and in a single day I visit 20 to 30 families,” she explains. It’s not an easy job, she says, but thanks to a new bag provided by UNICEF, her work has become a little easier.
“The bag is full of essential medical equipment and medicines which we commonly use, like antibiotics and oral rehydration salts (ORS)” says Dr Ri while checking the blue rucksack in preparation for her home visits today. “Before, we mostly used herbal medicines – it’s much better now.”
In rural areas like Hwasan Ri, children can be particularly vulnerable to diseases and illnesses. Rates of malnutrition and other related problems tend to be higher in rural areas and this year alone six children have been identified as malnourished in this village.
“It’s important to treat children with diarrhoea quickly and this bag allows us to deliver care to children fast,” she says before heading off to begin her shift for the day.
“Today I’m first visiting two homes to check on children who had diarrhoea,” she says. “They’ve been treated and should be ok now, but I just want to check their status.”
Dr Ri leaves the clinic and quickly marches down the hill with the household doctor bag strapped to her back. It’s a relatively small village of less than 4000 people dispersed across the countryside. The first stop is to the home of 1-and-a-half-year-old Ri Song.
“She had diarrhoea for two days and it didn’t stop,” explains her mother Rim Un Ok while Dr Ri checks the baby’s health. “We were given ORS and zinc tablets and after two days she’s better again.”
Globally, diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death for children under five, and is closly linked to malnutrition. In 2017, health workers in DPRK 1 million cases of diarrhoea in children under 5. Without the quick response and right medication provided by Dr Ri Chol Ok, children like young Ri Song would be at great risk.
In addition to the bag, Dr Ri, like 2,700 other household doctors, received UNICEF-supported training. “It’s much easier now for me to identify children with nutrition problems and know when to refer them to the hospital if needed,” Dr Ri explains.
This training also taught the doctors how to counsel parents about keeping their children healthy and safe. “After the first visit Dr Ri followed up to check on Ri Song’s health and also advise me on child care,” says a smiling Rim Un Ok.
Once finished Dr Ri quickly folds up her backpack and leaves to visit another family, again to check on a child with diarrhoea.
“The job isn’t easy but after treatment the families are very happy,” says Dr Ri with a smile. “That makes me feel proud of my job.”
It’s a simple idea, but these bags are allowing dedicated household doctors like Ri deliver healthcare to those most in need quickly and effectively, giving young children like Ri Song the chance to both survive and thrive.