East Asia

North Korea dispatches medical teams as at least 800 families ill with intestinal disease

North Korea has dispatched medical crews along with medicines “prepared by” Kim Jong-un’s family to the country’s southwestern region as it battles an outbreak of an unidentified gastrointestinal disease.

About 800 families are reportedly suffering from an “acute enteric epidemic” in the South Hwanghae Province.

This outbreak of an infectious intestinal disease in a farming region comes even as the country continues to grapple with a serious Covid-19 wave as well as food shortages.

The “enteric epidemic” is likely an infectious disease like typhoid, dysentery or cholera, which are caused by germs via contaminated food and water or contact with faeces of infected people.

“The respected general secretary Kim Jong-un has sent medicines prepared by his family to the Haeju City, South Hwanghae Province,” North Korea’s state media agency KCNA said on Sunday.

“[Mr Kim] stressed the need to contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible by taking a well-knit measure to quarantine the suspected cases to thoroughly curb its spread.”

The South Hwanghae Province, where Haeju is located, is a crucial agricultural hub for the north. An outbreak in this region could possibly worsen the country’s food shortage.

A rapid diagnosis and treatment team is working with the government to make sure there is no contamination in the agricultural sector.

Sewages and other wastes are also being disinfected to ensure the safety of drinking household water.

Infectious diseases are not new to the North, which faces a dearth of proper water treatment facilities. But what is troubling is that it has come when the country is already battling a Covid-19 outbreak, experts have said.

North Korea has reported 4.62 million Covid-19 cases so far. The isolated nation, which shut its borders at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, acknowledged its first Covid case only on 12 May.

State media on Sunday claimed the death toll from Covid-19 stood at 73 – a number that has been met with deep scepticism by experts and observers.

Although the North maintains that Covid-19 has shown signs of subsiding, the World Health Organisation said it believes the situation is getting worse due to the lack of access to healthcare for its 26 million population.

Additional reporting by agencies


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