As a medical student in North Korea, Lee Gwang-jin said he treated his fever and other minor ailments with traditional herbal medicines. But critical illnesses can spell trouble because their rural area hospitals lack ambulances and beds, and sometimes need light to care for critically ill or emergency patients.
That’s why Lee was skeptical when he heard recent reports in North Korean state media that so-called Korean traditional medicine has been instrumental in the country’s fight against COVID-19, which has killed millions around the world.
Lee, who studied Koryo medicine before fleeing North Korea in 2018 to start a new life in South Korea, said, “North Korea is using Koryo medicine (for COVID-19) a lot. But it is not a safe solution.” South “Whoever is destined to survive (with this kind of medicine), but North Korea cannot help others who are dying.”
Like other aspects of life in North Korea, the drug the state claims is healing the sick is being used as a political symbol. That, experts say, will eventually allow the country to say its rulers have defeated the outbreak by providing home remedies independent of foreign aid, against which other nations have repeatedly failed.
As the state press publishes stories about the drug’s effectiveness and mass-production efforts, there are questions about whether people with serious illness are getting the treatment they need.
Detractors and experts believe that North Korea is promoting the Koryo drug simply because it does not have enough modern medicines to fight COVID-19.
“Treating mild symptoms with Korean medicine is not a bad option. But the coronavirus not only causes mild symptoms,” said Yi Junhyok, an interventional physician and researcher at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine. When it comes to sick and high-risk patients, North Korea needs vaccines, emergency care systems and other supportive medical resources to reduce deaths.”
It’s been more than two months since North Korea admitted its first coronavirus outbreak, and the country has recorded an average of 157 daily fever cases over the past seven days, up from a high of nearly 400,000 a day during May. significant decline. It also holds the widely disputed claim that only 74 of the estimated 4.8 million fever patients have died, a mortality rate of 0.002% that would be among the lowest in the world.
Despite widespread external skepticism about North Korea’s reported figures, there is no indication that the outbreak in North Korea may have been devastating. Some outside experts say Pyongyang may soon declare victory over COVID-19 in a bid to promote internal unity. So North Korea can emphasize the role of Korean medicine as the reason for the success.
“North Korea calls Korean medicine ‘juche (self-sustaining) medicine’, values it and sees it as one of its political symbols,” said Kim Dongsu, a professor in the School of Korean Medicine at Dongshin University in South Korea. “
During the 1950s, North Korea officially included Koryo medicine in its public health system, named after an ancient Korean kingdom. Its importance has increased significantly since the mid-1990s, when the country began to suffer from a severe shortage of modern medicines during a disastrous time. The famine and economic crisis took hundreds of thousands of lives.