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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 15:21 GMT
N Korea healthcare 'near collapse'
North Korea rice paddy
Health problems linked to years of poor harvests
By BBC Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said North Korea's healthcare system is in a state of near-collapse.

WHO director general Gro Harlem Brundtland, speaking after a four day visit to North Korea, said money was urgently needed to prevent a major health crisis, following years of natural disasters, and the country's economic decline.

Really, there needs to be a higher priority given to the health sector

Gro Harlem Brundtland
She said preventable diseases such as malaria, which had once been eradicated, were now re-surfacing as major problems.

Dr Brundtland said hospitals and clinics lacked many of the basics, including essential medicines and equipment, running water and electricity.

Appeal planned

North Korea once boasted an extensive public health system in the 1960s and 70s, providing universal free health care for its population. But it has been seriously strained by the country's economic problems, and serious food and energy shortages.

WHO director general Gro Harlem Brundtland
Gro Harlem Brundtland: Health spending is too low
The mortality rate has risen by about 35% over the past few years.

The WHO is planning to launch an appeal to raise $8m to support emergency efforts in North Korea next week.

But Dr Brundtland said she had also told the North Korean authorities they needed to give the health sector a higher priority and allocate more resources.

The WHO says the impoverished state currently spends just 3% of its gross domestic product on health - less than most nations in Africa and a tiny fraction of the amount it spends on defence.

During her visit to North Korea, Dr Brundtland officially opened the WHO's permanent office in Pyongyang and oversaw the first delivery of tuberculosis medicine that the UN agency says can be used to treat more than 30,000 people suffering from the disease.

See also:

22 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN rushes aid to North Korea
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
New food crisis for North Korea
16 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea battered by tidal wave
21 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea faces desperate future
09 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans 'starving to death'
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Where famine stalks the land
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