03/23/2016, 14.33
KOREA
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Amid difficulties and threats, drugs for TB patients arrive in North Korea

The Eugene Bell Foundation announced the shipment. For the first time in 20 years, it came close to being denied permission to deliver six months of medical drugs needed in the treatment of 1,500 patients. The visit by a Foundation delegation to the North between 19 April and 10 May has also been approved. Tensions on the peninsula continue however to rise.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The medical drugs for 1,500 TB patients provided by the Eugene Bell Foundation have arrived in North Korea.

After a long standoff with the South Korean government, which for the first time in 20 years seemed determined to prevent the shipment of drugs, containers with six months of supplies for each patient received the green light.

“We would like to extend a special thanks to all those who have helped make this possible,” the Foundation said in a statement.

Although tensions between North and South Korea are rising, the government of President Park Geun-hye also authorised a Eugene Bell delegation to travel to North Korea. The visit is set to take place from 19 April to 10 May.

The delegation will include several Catholic priests, like Fr Gerard Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll in Korea. He has made such visits for the past 25 years and will be able to celebrate Mass in the Polish Embassy.

The Foundation's work is twofold. On one hand, it provides medical drugs for TB patients; on the other, it runs various facilities where the most serious cases are treated.

“At present, the Foundation runs 11 facilities,” Fr Hammond told AsiaNews, “but the government has given the opportunity to set up five more. Each can accommodate up to 20 TB patients."

The Eugene Bell Foundation also trains North Korean doctors and nurses in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Some members of the upcoming delegation have been trained in South Korea to recognise the bacteria that cause TB with the microscope, and can teach this technique to North Korean staff.  This helps prevent the spread of the infection, which occurs through the air.

Despite this hopeful sign, the situation on the peninsula seems to be getting worse. On Monday, North Korea fired rounds from a new 300-mm multiple rocket launcher into the sea.

In its propaganda, Pyongyang described the exercise as the 'Final Test-Fire’, hinting that the next time the weapons might be directed towards the land, not the sea.

With a range of 200 km, the launcher can reach ​​Seoul and South Korea’s Gyeryongdae military complex.

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