Pyongyang (AsiaNews / Agencies) - About 5 thousand people died of tuberculosis in North Korea in 2014. This was revealed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Tuberculosis Report 2015. For a population of just over 22 million inhabitants, this means about 20 people per 100 thousand people have died from the disease. This is more than five times higher than South Korea.
Although the numbers remain worrisome, Philippe Glaziou, WHO epidemiologist, found a small improvement compared to 2013, when 6 thousand people died of TB. The number of those infected in 2014, however, rose from the previous year: they totaled 110 thousand, that means 442 per 100 thousand inhabitants. In Asia, only East Timor has more people with tuberculosis.
North Korea has also seen an increase in the number of patients with tuberculosis resistant to treatment, the so-called multi-drug-resistant (MDR). These people have developed a tolerance to existing treatments for tuberculosis and need more specific and expensive care.
Unfortunately, says Karin Weyer, coordinator of the global program against TB, Pyongyang does not have the capacity to adequately differentiate TB patients from those with MDR, with the result that they are not diagnosed in time. "If the country had the facilities to test each TB patient - says Weyer – we would probably find at least 3800 people with MDR. Instead in 2014 only 197 were recognized ".
Tuberculosis is a disease that spreads by air and affects people who suffer from malnutrition or general organic weakness. In North Korea, half the population lives below the poverty line. Globally, the number of deaths due to TB has been halved since 1990.
The Eugene Bell Foundation was founded in 1995 to treat TB patients in North Korea. Twive or three times a year a delegation enters the country to visit patients. The group usually consists of 16 members, including some doctors and Catholic volunteers. Among them Fr. Gerard Hammond, regional superior of the Maryknoll Missionaries in South Korea, who has been working for 20 years in North Korea.