Pyongyang accepts US$ 41.74 million in humanitarian aid

The country’s TB medication inventory will not run out in June 2020. The Eugene Bell Foundation will be the only provider of multidrug-resistant medication. Treatment may soon be available to all North Koreans who need it.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – After lengthy consultations, the North Korean government has reached an agreement with the Global Fund to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (Global Fund) on a US$ 41.74 million funding grant.

“The successful conclusion of these negotiations may have averted a crisis, as there is no longer a threat that North Korea will exhaust its inventory of regular TB medications in June of 2020 as was feared when the previous grant was terminated in 2018,” the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF) announced today in a press release.

The US-based Christian charity is involved in medical and humanitarian assistance that benefits thousands of TB patients in rural North Korea.

The three-year agreement between North Korea, the Global Fund and implementing partners of will last until 30 September 2022.

Thanks to its work over the years and the trust the authorities place in it, EBF will be the sole provider of assistance for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), whilst United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be responsible for providing assistance for malaria and drug-susceptible tuberculosis (regular TB).

According to WHO, about 130,000 North Koreans suffered from tuberculosis in 2017, and more than 16,000 died from the disease that same year.

In cooperation with EBF, the North Korean government operates 12 medical centres treating thousands of patients in four provinces: North Pyongan, South Pyongan, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae.

The EBF statement goes on to say that US$ 12.49 million earmarked for MDR-TB “is intended to cover MDR-TB assistance for the entire country and will be made available to EBF for purchasing diagnostic equipment and medications for MDR-TB patients living in provinces where EBF's treatment program has been established. It is hoped that the program will soon be extended to provinces currently not covered by the program.”

“The new Global Fund initiative is good news for everyone. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the tuberculosis problem has been solved as much more support is needed for a comprehensive program.

“Nevertheless, with further encouragement and support, particularly from Koreans on the Korean peninsula, multidrug-resistant TB treatment could soon be available to all North Koreans suffering from multidrug-resistant TB.”