News / Asia

North Korea Struggling to Fight Epidemic of Drug-Resistant TB

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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs