News / Asia

North Korea Struggling to Fight Epidemic of Drug-Resistant TB

TEXT SIZE - +

North Korea is grappling with a strain of the deadly lung disease tuberculosis that is resistant to conventional treatment.  Humanitarian workers say the impoverished communist country, which already has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis outside of sub-Saharan Africa, is unable to cope with the outbreak.  Most victims could die of the disease within years.  But some help is coming from an outside foundation.



TB, resistant to treatment

The disease is known as multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis. It resists treatment by the two most powerful front-line TB drugs.

Stephen Linton, chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation in Seoul, recently returned from North Korea, which he has visited nearly 70 times for humanitarian work since 1979. "North Koreans have told me that tuberculosis is their number one, number two and number three primary public health concern," he said.

Conditions in North Korea are ideal for the spread of TB. The climate is cold. Most citizens live and work in small spaces, and lack proper nutrition to maintain a strong immune system.

Linton says his foundation is now primarily focused on combating the multi-drug resistant TB outbreaks in North Korea.

It is treating 600 patients in the country at a cost of two thousand dollars annually per case. It is an intense multi-year regimen of several second-line drugs that produce severe side effects.

Grim prognosis

Linton says the prognosis is grim for those who cannot get access to the expensive program. "It's the fate of a resistant patient anywhere who doesn't get medication. I think their average life expectancy would be no more than five years. To make matters worse, there's a very good chance that they would pass this resistant form of TB on to their families, to their co-workers, whoever comes in contact with them," he noted. "So it becomes not only a personal tragedy but a serious social problem at the same time."

Linton, who suffered himself from TB as a child in South Korea, says it is difficult to know how widespread the epidemic is in the North.

"I don't think anybody knows because the primary research hasn't been done. And all we're doing is looking at it through these keyholes of six different institutions. But, for instance, the North Koreans can identify patients that they suspect are MDR. And when we test them 95 to 98 percent are MDR. They have enough patients already on waiting lists to double this program," said Linton. "So I would imagine that MDR patients in the thousands would be quite easy given their present situation."

As a South Korea-based American citizen devoted to assisting ill North Koreans, Linton tries to avoid the political sensitivities in all three countries that affect the aid flow.

But his foundation does insist on visiting any facility in North Korea to which it provides assistance.

Empowering caregivers

The authorities in Pyongyang, who tightly control visits to the country, have welcomed Linton perhaps more times than any other American citizen. However, even he has not been allowed to take up residence there to supervise his life-saving work. Linton says, instead, the foundation has focused on training North Korean caregivers to manage the program themselves.

The Washington DC-based Korea Economic Institute says North Korea's diplomatic isolation hinders its access to large-scale internationally funded programs to fight MDR tuberculosis.

That is partly due to economic sanctions imposed on the country by the international community for its nuclear weapons and missile development programs.

The institute says the sanctions have had the unintended consequence of exacerbating North Korea's public health crisis.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid