There has been a recent outbreak of tuberculosis among workers at Hyesan Coal Mine in Yanggang Province, Daily NK has learned. 

A Daily NK source in Yanggang Province said Thursday that workers continue to emerge who are unable to work because they have caught tuberculosis. He said most of them are miners who work underground digging coal.

According to the source, 17 mine workers have been diagnosed with tuberculosis so far. Eight were diagnosed last month, with an additional nine emerging during the first half of March alone.

Why the prevalence rate has risen remains unknown, but it appears increased work hours due to calls for “self-reliance” are a major factor.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the tubercular bacillus. Given that it is spread by droplets from coughing, sneaking and phlegm, your chances of being infected naturally increase the longer you are exposed.

However, locals point more to economic difficulties for the rise in cases. 

Miners who inhale a lot of dust used to regularly drink alcohol to wash away coal dust from their lungs, though this practice is not grounded in science.

From last year, however, the authorities suspended food provisions to the miners. Meals are no longer provided in the mine shafts, and coal production has plummeted as well.

With miners facing intensified inspections whenever they enter or leave the mines, pilfering a bit of coal has grown more difficult, too. The miners could say they no longer have the financial wherewithal to buy even the booze to wash the coal dust out of their throats.

In fact, at the mine, workers claim that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers drank every day to wash away the coal dust, but they can no longer do so when they cannot even have proper meals. They say the aftermath of this is the growing number of tuberculosis patients.

Tuberculosis patients need to undergo more than six months of intensive treatment, but hospitals provide nothing more than the diagnosis. Patients are left to provide for their own treatment.

The source said most of the sick workers cannot receive normal treatment due to economic difficulties and simply suffer with their disease. He said despite this, “pathetic” cadres at the mine simply tell workers with serious symptoms to get proper treatment while taking no measures to enable such treatment. 

The source expressed concern that if the authorities continue to ignore the food problem affecting miners and fail to provide them with proper medical treatment, the number of tuberculosis patients will grow.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.