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WHO: Health Project In North Korea Makes Impressive Gains

Eric Laroche, the World Health Organization's top humanitarian official (file photo)

The World Health Organization reports a joint North-South Korean Health Project is making impressive gains. The project that was launched four years ago, aims at improving health conditions for millions of North Koreans, especially women and children.

The World Health Organization's top humanitarian official, Eric Laroche, has just returned from a four-day visit to North Korea. He says what he saw indicates the project is improving health services in the country.

"I was really impressed by the effectiveness of the program that has been set up. You know I have been working for 30 years in this field and in the field. And, you do not always get that high rate of return for investment," said Laroche.

The World Health Organization reports South Korea is providing $36 million for the health project that began in 2006.

Laroche says the project is delivering essential, quality health services to mothers, newborns and children. He says this is being done through the so-called Integrated Management for Childhood Illness program, which has been very successful in other developing countries.

"It is an extremely cost-effective measure that gets a lot of high rate of return in terms of incidence of disease, in terms of reduction of mortality and so on," said Laroche. "Along with that there were strategies to reduce also maternal health, to reduce ill-health of mothers, to reduce maternal mortality with emergency obstetric care."

The project also is working to upgrade infrastructure. Hospitals are being rehabilitated and provided with modern surgical and medical equipment.

Laroche says a survey of health facilities that have been upgraded show a number of impressive results.

He says the number of operations performed has increased by eight percent and post-operation infection rates have fallen by more than 42 percent. He says the number of deaths during operations has fallen by more than 73 percent and post-operation deaths have gone down by more than 50 percent.

He says more than 6,000 health professionals have been trained and equipped in emergency obstetric care, essential newborn care and integrated management of childhood illnesses.

North Korea has 220 counties. Laroche says the World Health Organization is allowed to go freely to 210 of these counties. He says the joint North-South Korean health project has been implemented in 80 of these counties and hopes to reach the rest in the coming years.