North Korea’s crumbling medical care system
touted for being free of charge has left many with no option but to look for
help elsewhere, giving birth to a black health care market with retired doctors
specializing in diagnosis and self-trained Korean medicine specialists, Daily
NK has learned.
“It’s been long since the free health care
system collapsed, leaving nothing but the skeleton behind. Black markets
selling medicine prescribed by individuals have been around for more than two
decades,” a source from South Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a telephone
“More recently, there have been doctors who
diagnose patients and others who fill in prescriptions. The medicine is then
sold to patients, so trade in this field is growing.”
This trend was corroborated by two
additional sources in North Pyongan Province.
The most crucial element in medical
treatment is an accurate diagnosis, which is why so many people in the past had
died from cirrhosis and ascites. However, recently those numbers have been
falling thanks to a greater wealth of medical experts offering services through
the back door, according to the source.
Many doctors working in the black markets
are retired from state hospitals, unable to make a living on measly wages. Some
are without medical licenses and are usually self-taught Korean medicine
“The free medical system has been lost on
people, leaving them without any treatment unless they pay up bribes at state
hospitals. Struggling to even receive a proper diagnosis, people have been
seeking out these doctors,” the source said. This has led to the build-up of a
much more structured, systematic, and specialized market for health care.
Some Korean medicine doctors who have
earned great reputations see patients lining up in front of their doors from
the crack of dawn. They charge around 10 USD for a diagnosis, and the cost for
prescriptions varies widely depending on the medicine required for treatment,
according to the source.
“Law enforcement agencies carry out crackdowns,
but even Ministry of People’s Security personnel turn to these personal doctors
if their wives get ill,” he said.
“Last year, a Party secretary couldn’t get
proper treatment at the hospital, but he was able to see some results after
receiving diagnosis for ascites by a private doctor and taking medicine,” he
added, punctuating the pervasive demand for black market treatment.