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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
WHO battles malaria in North Korea
A North Korean boy stands near fields at a collective farm on the outskirts of Sariwan City
Agricultural workers are most at risk
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By Caroline Gluck
BBC correspondent in Pyongyang
The World Health Organisation (WHO) begins an anti-malarial programme in Communist North Korea this month, supporting national efforts to combat the spread of the epidemic.

Malaria was eradicated in North Korea some 30 years ago, but it has made a resurgence in recent years, largely because of serious water and sanitation problems in the cash-strapped country.

Food aid delivery to North Korea
Officials say North Korea needs medical aid as well as food
The WHO, which opened a permanent office in North Korea last November, estimates that as many as 300,000 North Koreans were infected with malaria last year.

Working with local health officials, the WHO will help to distribute anti-malarial drugs, insecticides and treated bed nets for families, as well as microscopes for health laboratories.

Much of the aid is coming from South Korea, which is donating nearly $700,000-worth of malaria-related equipment.

Malaria was eradicated in North Korea in the 1970s, but re-emerged as a serious problem in 1997.

The number of people infected with malaria has roughly trebled since then.

Economic impact

While the form of malaria found in North Korea has a relatively low fatality rate, patients suffer from high fever and chills.

Agricultural workers are the most at risk, and WHO officials in Pyongyang estimate that sickness from malaria accounted for one million lost working days last year.

The worst affected areas are in the southern provinces, and malaria cases have also spread to the South Korean side of the heavily-fortified border between the two countries.

While much of the international effort for famine-hit North Korea in recent years has concentrated on food aid, officials say that equally serious is the country's rapidly deteriorating health sector.

Many areas of the country lack clean water, which means an increased risk of epidemics and diseases.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea gears up for festivities
26 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
South Korean envoy 'may meet Kim'
16 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea marks leader's birthday
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
15 Feb 02 | Health
Malaria drug offers new hope
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