North Korea's famine, poverty and other problems have brought the nation's health care system near collapse and sharply boosted the mortality rates. The U.N.'s top health official talked with reporters in Beijing about her trip to North Korea in the last week.

The head of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, says malaria has infected up to 300,000 North Koreans, with tuberculosis striking tens of thousands more. And North Korean medical facilities do not have the means to treat many of the infected.

Dr. Brundtland brought a delivery of medication to North Korea that will make it possible to treat thousands of victims.

Malaria was once nearly eliminated in North Korea, but years of famine, natural disaster, and economic mismanagement have allowed the scourge to reappear along border areas with China and South Korea.

Dr. Brundtland says the diseases are one reason the death rate for North Koreans has risen about 35 percent in recent years.

The U.N. health chief urged North Korea's foreign and health ministers to spend more money on health care, but acknowledged the international community will have to step in with millions of dollars to make a difference. "These are not overdone appeals and it is no way more than needed, so it is a challenge," she said.

During her trip to North Korea, Dr. Brundtland opened the U.N. World Health Organization's first permanent office in Pyongyang.