North Korean in Namyang
FILE PHOTO: In this July 2018 photo, North Korean children play on a playground in Namyang, North Hamgyong Province. (Daily NK)

As fever patients under the age of 10 die at relatively high rates in North Korea, significant numbers of children are dying from side effects of medication, Daily NK has learned. 

A North Korean military source in Nampo told Daily NK on Friday that children have been virtually abandoned during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Among military families of the headquarters of the Third Corps, more children than adults have died,” he said. “This is because most were already undernourished, and because they were given medications meant for adults.” 

That young children are dying from side effects at high rates appears connected with the poor state of affairs in North Korea, which lacks a proper healthcare system for children.

According to the source, the two-year-old daughter of a soldier at the headquarters of the Third Corps died on May 17 after suffering from a high fever.

The family of the soldier was in home quarantine. An army medic told the parents to give their daughter a quarter dose of the fever medication paracetamol, which they did.

When the daughter continued to cry and the fever failed to break, the medic prescribed a small dose of the sleep medication Dimedrol. They did as instructed, but early the next morning, their daughter stopped breathing and died.

“Neither paracetamol or Dimedrol are for children, and giving them to her caused her death,” said the source. “Among military families of the Third Corps, there have been frequent deaths of children like this after they came down with COVID-19 or some other fever.”

Though there have been several infant deaths among military families of the Third Corps, these are not counted in Nampo’s statistics regarding infant fever deaths. Instead, they are only included in separate statistics maintained by the army’s health bureau.

The source said many children of military families have yet to receive tuberculosis vaccinations. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard of or seen a drug for children, and since the state drug prescription system collapsed in the 1990s, children have been dropping dead faster than adults,” he said.

Because the healthcare system for children, including infant vaccinations, has collapsed, children with relatively weak immunity or tolerance compared to adults have appeared vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Military families of the Third Corps have been calling for the punishment of the army medic who prescribed paracetamol and Dimedron to a two-year-old child. However, the corps infirmary is ruling this out, saying the children’s parents agreed to the treatment.

“As it’s been a while since the system for prescribing separate medicines for adults and children disappeared, parents themselves think it’s alright just to give children smaller doses of adult medications,” said the source. “Since the healthcare system for children is so poor, these incidents inevitably keep repeating.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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