North Korean state media published this photo of a pharmacy on June 13. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

North Korea recently suspended supplies of traditional herbal medications to pharmacies in Hamhung after locals complained they were ineffective against COVID-19 symptoms, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday that the government had previously ordered supplies of herbal medications such as phaedoksan, samhyang and uhwangcheongsimhwan to be placed in Hamhung’s pharmacies as treatments for COVID-19.

“The government then suspended the supplies because the remedies had no clear effect in lowering fevers,” he said.

According to the source, North Korea has been promoting the superiority of its socialist system of free treatments, supplying herbal medications to hospitalized patients and quarantined households through pharmacies in Hamhung since June 4.

He said North Korean authorities had been upping their efforts to supply herbal medications, emphasizing that “North Korea is the only country in the world that provides even medicines for free” and that it is a “really good country because the party cares about the health of the people.”

However, North Koreans reportedly responded with criticism because the herbal medicines had no effect on relieving their symptoms, even though the state claimed the drugs were especially good against fevers. 

In fact, some North Koreans even pressed their doctors as to whether the drugs were really anti-fever medications. Some complained that their fevers “didn’t get better even after ingesting two or three packages at a time, nor were they effective against coughs and phlegm. It’s not clear whether it’s medicine or [just] powdered barley root.”

Doctors equivocated, telling their patients that the medication has little effect on people with pre-existing conditions or poor constitutions, and that while the medicine reduces fevers, it is not right for everyone. The source said North Korean authorities ultimately suspended the supplies of herbal medications, believing them to be ineffective against fevers.

The source said the provincial emergency anti-epidemic command suspended the supply after concluding that phaedoksan — which was rumored to be good at reducing fevers in cold patients — was of absolutely no help against COVID-19. The command decided to leave existing supplies of the medication in pharmacies and that supplying anymore would be “meaningless.” 

“Locals are complaining that because the country is under a maximum emergency epidemic prevention system, the authorities should switch from preventing the spread of the infectious disease to opening the borders so the country can bring in drugs from China, smuggling them in if necessary,” he added.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.