Image captured from: borgenproject.org
North Korea struggles to stay afloat during a chronic food shortage and their first COVID outbreak. On Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un sent word to its southern counterpart, informing them of an outbreak of an unidentified intestinal epidemic in a farming region. An unconcerned official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs eased worries when they said the outbreak is suspected to be Cholera or Typhoid, spreading in the water supply.
South Korea’s intelligence service notified legislators that waterborne illnesses like typhoid were rampant in North Korea before a coronavirus outbreak occurred. However, the flag of concern is being raised due to the COVID outbreak, the chronic food shortage, and the alleged new intestinal outbreak. Professor Shin Young-jeon at Hanyang University’s College of Medicine in Seoul said, “Intestinal diseases such as typhoid and shigellosis are not particularly new in North Korea but what’s troubling is that it comes at a time when the country is already struggling from COVID-19.”
Since sending medicine to the agricultural city of Haeju on Wednesday to help infected patients suffering from the “intestinal epidemic,” the official KCNA news agency reported that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has ordered quarantine measures be implemented. The primary agricultural region of North Korea, where Haeju is located, is South Hwanghae province, which could exacerbate the country’s acute food shortfall, raising concern over possibly worsening the already chronic food shortage.
Eom Joong-sik, an infectious disease expert at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, said that while the odds of spreading the illness through crops were unlikely, the key to stalling this virus from spreading would be disinfecting water supply sources.
North Korea’s healthcare system is in shambles, and the country continues to reject international offers of vaccinations for its people. The South said they were willing to work with the North to tackle the disease that reportedly killed 73 people. Unfortunately, Pyongyang remains unresponsive to any offers for dialogue.
As Pyongyang announces the daily count of people with fever symptoms, they leave the cause of the fever extremely vague. The WHO and others have said they fear the depth of infection is much worse than what the North is leading, especially after learning that the country was alleged to be short on COVID test kits.
As the North remains independent from the world, it worsens not only its economic position but also adds a sense of anxiety to those who fear contracting the virus, as well as the potential of exacerbating an already chronic food shortage. As time continues to pass, experts are also starting to believe that reporters are underreporting the infections due to government-controlled media.