Secretive country goes viral: COVID-19 virus outbreak in North Korea poses a major health problem

By Leo Herold Laluna

PHOTO: Sight Magazine

Despite being one of the most secretive countries, North Korea has just confirmed its COVID-19 cases to the media after almost two years since the pandemic started. From their report, it has caught the concern of global experts, worrying about the underdeveloped healthcare system present in the country.

Due to the 350,000 suspected COVID-19 cases disclosed on May 12, the isolated North was forced into even more isolation as it embraces a national lockdown. 

Although the numbers are worth worrying about, many are more concerned about the apparent healthcare crisis that North Korea is experiencing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), North Korea is one of the two countries that have yet to initiate a vaccination program against COVID-19.

Since the country is under heavy international monitoring, North Korea has been unable to attain enough doses to fuel a nationwide vaccination campaign. Even offers from China were refused by Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. As the country has few vaccine doses, the infamous supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un, is assumed to not have taken the vaccine from a report in 2021.

However, the country of the North is not taking things lightly as they have developed their own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment since they are unable to arrange for shipments themselves. On that note, only Russia was able to send North Korea small amounts of PRC equipment for testing.

Regardless of the impressive effort, specialists believe that the pacing for COVID-19 testing is limited when considering the total population of North Korea. Out of the 25 million citizens, only 64, 207 individuals were tested for COVID-19.

Even with a massive workforce consisting of trained medical professionals that are able to be deployed during an emergency, North Korea falls short when it comes to more widespread medical crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic as suggested by the Global Health Security Index in December. Though there are many hospitals that are distributed throughout the country, these are supposedly “not necessarily functional ones” as WHO stated in its 2014-2019 Country Cooperation Strategy report.

All of this could spell out a rather bitter viral issue for the private country, especially for the supreme leader. Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean lawmaker who defected to the South, would even suggest that the virus has the potential to spread rapidly without a working medical system.



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