Seoul (AsiaNews) – The Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF) wants medicines and essential supplies to treat tuberculosis to be excluded from sanctions. The Foundation has been involved in the treatment of TB patients in North Korea for several years, and is currently caring for about a thousand of them.
Two days ago, during a press conference at South Korea’s National Assembly in Seoul, the NGO called on the government of President Moon Jae-in to ask the UN Security Council sanctions committee to exempt medicines and supplies for the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) from its list of punitive measures.
Last September, the UN Security Council had increased sanctions against Pyongyang in response to its missile tests, cutting oil exports to the communist nation and banning ship-to-ship transfers.
“The South Korean government needs to make efforts so that medicines and supplies required to treat around 1,000 people can be delivered to North Korea without delay,” said Choi Se-moon, an advisor to the NGO.
EBF chief Stephen Linton said that a “discussion is underway” to resolve the issues, but “There isn’t yet a clear response”.
Linton, in particular, pointed to the need for “stainless boilers” in makeshift hospital wards. At present, they are included in the list of banned items.
The NGO plans to ask South Korea’s Unification Ministry for permission next week to send supplies and medication ahead of a visit to North Korea in May.
The Moon administration in June last year allowed the NGO to ship MDR-TB medication and construction materials for makeshift hospital wards.
North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health recently signed a memorandum of agreement with EBF over a project aimed at “treating all the patients with multidrug-resistant TB in South Hwanghae Province.”
The agreement followed the Ministry’s request in November 2017 for help with the treatment of some 3,000 North Korean patients with MDR-TB in the west of the country.
“North Korea’s request to expand the project is a good opportunity to solve the tuberculosis problem, the fund that the Eugene Bell Foundation has secured is insufficient,” Choi said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there currently are 120,323 TB cases in North Korea out of a population of 25 million.
A total of KRW 2.7 billion (around US$ 2,530,000) is required to implement the project, according to the NGO, with KRW 900 million to be used for medicine and food and KRW 1.8 billion to be funneled into the construction of wards.
In September, South Korean authorities approved a plan to provide US$ 8 million in humanitarian aid to the North via international organisations. As of January, however, the funds have not yet been delivered.