The Internet Campaign to Help North Korean Flood Victims

Meeting with North Korean Ministry of Health

Tokyo, April 22, 1997

Yesterday I met with the Vice Director of the External Affairs of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kim Jong Ha and his colleague, Dr. Kim Yu Yung. They expressed gratitude for the many donations which came from our internet appeal for flood victims. I told them that this time, an Eisai staff donated 30 cartons of infant formula powdered milk from Wyeth and that we donated it to the City Hospital of Huichon where 40 malnourished children were receiving treatment. I told them that the Christian Association for Medical Mission donated an ambulance, two EKG machines and other medical equipment to the Third Hospital in Pyongyang. I pledged the 100 tons of corn (which arrived in Sinuiju on April 18th) and the 200 tons of rice (which was purchased in Vietnam and will arrive in Nampo on April 26th) to the children of Huichon. I informed them of the major donors: Church of Christ in Seoul and Tokyo, Hope Worldwide, Mr. Toshu Fukami of World Mate (Japan), Bishiken, Cargill, the Union Church of Tokyo and the Christian Mission for Medical Mission and of numerous individuals who gave what they could to help. The doctors said they appreciated the spirit of humanitarianism this project has galvanized.

They told me about the present medical needs of the country. The three consecutive years of floods devastated their supply of medical drugs and nourishment. The flood disaster washed away drug factories and currently there is a shortage of medicines. The most effected from this problem are children under the age of six, who are weaker and more susceptible to diseases than adults. Diseases which were eradicated in the country have reemerged due to a combination of the contamination of the environment and malnutrition. Last year 145 children under the age of five died of malnutrition.

There are 2.089 million children under the age of 5, who must attend nursery schools or kindergarten. There are 26,900 nursery schools in the country. In a survey of these institutions, it is estimated that 15.6 per cent of the total number of children (320,000 children) suffer from first or second degree of malnutrition. I asked whether the Ministry of Health conducted these surveys. Dr. Kim said that the Ministry lacked the expertise to assess the situation and that they depended on experts from International Organizations such as UNICEF.

Dr. Kim said the country needs raw materials for vaccines. Before the flood, they did not accept vaccines from abroad (99.6% of the vaccines were made in the D.P.R.K.) but now they need to request such donations. Specifically, vaccines for measles, polio, typhoid, paratyphoid, diphtheria, whooping cough, BCG, and tetanus are necessary. Dr. Kim said that expensive medical instruments were not needed but very simple instruments such as blood pressure measuring devices, stethoscopes, thermometers, non-disposable syringes, microscopes, machines for heat sterilization of surgical tools, scissors, and pin sets. Besides vaccines and medical instruments, Dr. Kim said the country lacks antibiotics, analgesic drugs, hormone drugs and multivitamins.

There are 8,177 medical facilities and there are 29.7 doctors per ten thousand people. They feel that they have an adequate number of medical professionals. Among the 8,177 facilities, 1,506 are general hospitals; 836 are specialized hospitals; 5,704 clinics and 131 sanitary stations which practice homeopathy. There are a total of 200,000 hospital beds and all patients are treated free of charge.

Dr. Kim said the greatest needs lie in the 5,704 clinics in the rural areas. "If each clinic could get one needle, one blood pressure measuring device, one stethoscope, the people will be greatly helped," he said. I asked whether donors of medicines and/or medical devices could go to such an area of need and donate the supplies themselves. The officials from the Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee and the Ministry of Health assured me that that would be possible.

My father and I returned to Tokyo today. We left on a 6 a.m. chartered flight to Beijing and connected onto a mid-morning plane to Tokyo. We went immediately from Narita Airport to the St. Luke's Hospital where he has checked in for further tests and treatment. He is extremely pleased with the medical care he received in Pyongyang and his condition has significantly improved since he first checked into the hospital. He had many visitors, both foreign and Korean, who reside in Pyongyang. He carried on his own survey of the food situation right from his hospital bed which he will report on as soon as he gets back on the computer.

This is Diary entry number 10. Other diary entries from the April 1997 donation trip to North Korea and photographs are also available.

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