South Korean medical devices favored over the competition

North Korean medicine
Various kinds of medicines sold in North Korean markets. / Image: Daily NK

North Koreans are increasingly purchasing South Korean-made household medical devices, despite the fact they can cost up to 10 times more than Chinese-made devices, a Daily NK source in South Pyongan Province reported on Wednesday. 

According to the source, Chinese-made blood pressure monitors cost 15 USD each, while disposable syringes sell for one cent each. Despite the fact that South Korean-made products are 10 times more expensive, North Koreans generally prefer them over Chinese products. 

“Chinese products cause a lot of medical incidents, so people prefer South Korean ones,” said the source, adding that South Korean products are considered higher in quality and worth the extra cost. 

“People also prefer European medical devices supplied by international aid organizations over Chinese-made ones,” another source in the province told the Daily NK.  

North Koreans generally purchase blood pressure monitors, disposable syringes and pregnancy tests at local markets, and there has been a rising demand for tampons and wet tissues, among other common necessities. 

Despite propaganda, medical system faces many challenges

The North Korean government states that it provides its population with free medical care. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also appears interested in improving the country’s medical infrastructure and has called for the country’s pharmaceutical and medical devices factories to be modernized so that appropriate medical supplies and equipment can be produced.

Sources in North Korea, however, say that many people are forced to buy their own medicines from local markets because the medicines they have been prescribed by their doctors are not available at hospitals. Reflecting this dire state of affairs, a substantial number of North Koreans have begun to rely on medical devices designed for home use and folk remedies to treat their aches and pains.

Daily NK has previously reported on the dilapidated state of North Korea’s medical infrastructure. Just last month, a source in North Korea told Daily NK that people are turning to medicinal plants to treat their illnesses instead. The source added that medical equipment such as sterilizers and other devices are aging, with the majority dating back to the 1960s.

Earlier this month, an Australian expert who visited hospital staff in Ryanggang Province was quoted by a Daily NK source as saying that “North Korean doctors are unskilled and expressed concern about whether such doctors working in poor medical facilities would be able to save lives.”

North Korea’s medical system was also featured in a 2018 report (in Korean) by South Korea’s Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization. The report notes that the system collapsed in the 1990s and hospitals are in such poor shape that they often lack disinfectant and anesthesia.

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