North Korea’s Confused Flu Policy

Changchun, China — The Daily NK has been informed that those agencies in charge of preventing the spread of infectious diseases in North Korea have been going to great pains to try and combat both H1N1 flu and the normal winter outbreak of influenza. However, since they are unable to provide adequate amounts of drugs and equipment for diagnosing symptoms, confusion is the main result for patients.

An source from inside Yangkang Province explained all in a phone conversation with the Daily NK on the 1st, “The North Korean authorities organized a ‘Prevention of Infectious Disease Policy Committee’ within the Center for the Hygienic Prevention of Epidemics in each city and county at the beginning of October, and have prepared policies to deal with patients suspected of having H1N1 flu.”

“Chinese flu prevention medicine is prescribed for patients with influenza symptoms. But due to the scarcity of such medicines, there are many patients who have not received proper treatment,” he went on.

In the case of Yangkang Province, Hyesan Provincial Hospital has been instructed to treat those with such symptoms, but it evaluates any infection on the basis of a patient’s own opinion and body temperature.

The source explained, “Examinations merely consist of taking a patient’s temperature and listening to him or her breathing. If the patient has a high body temperature, then not only the individual but his or her family members are quarantined for a week.”

Naturally, this is not enough to distinguish between H1N1, or regular influenza, as the source told the Daily NK, “Due to the fact that the season is turning, the number of flu patients is on the rise, while it is difficult to distinguish between a common cold and H1N1 flu. As a result, if a hospital releases a patient, then he or she is immediately quarantined at home. People’s units also notify others in the neighborhood in an effort to minimize infection by exposure.”

The North Korean authorities have also been trying hard to implement other swine flu prevention measures.

The source said, “The Center for the Hygienic Prevention of Epidemics and local government offices have been trying to raise awareness of H1N1. They have implemented a physician referral system in People’s Units and are checking flu patients on a daily basis.”

Furthermore, he added, “They have been suggesting that households drink boiled water and brush teeth with salt water every day. Also, educational projects are urging people to wear masks and eat ‘Omija’ and vinegar.”

In particular, markets and other crowded areas have been designated as key prevention areas.

The source said, “Every school has been changing its water supply on a daily basis and asking students to wash their hands during breaks. They have also been instructing students to come to school with bottles filled with salt water and to brush their teeth during breaks.”

The source also relayed news that, due to the fact that H1N1 flu is still called “swine flu” in North Korea, the sale of pork has been prohibited in a portion of the jangmadang!

The source explained, “It is not as if an official decree has been issued by the state or anything, but some officials of the People’s Safety Agency have been unilaterally preventing the sale of pork. In the Hyesan, Wiyeon and Masan Markets, it is still difficult to find pork.”

The North Korean authorities have also designated acts which spread H1N1 flue as “anti-revolutionary,” and have strengthened inspections in border regions.

The source said, “People’s Unit committees in the border regions have announced, ‘Due to the increased spread of swine flu in China, the risk of flu spreading through travelers (North Korean citizens visiting relatives) and smugglers is significant. Those infected with the flu while smuggling goods are to be punished as anti-revolutionaries.” Currently, those returning from visiting relatives in China have been forced to undergo 15-days in quarantine.

“The number of flu patients has increased significantly in recent years anyway, so it is difficult to distinguish them from H1N1 flu patients. Even hospitals refrain from using the term ‘swine flu’ when trying to diagnose flu patients.”

Related to this, the Chosun Central News Agency reported on the 30th of last month, “In preparation for a situation in which the number of people infected with swine flu continues to increase in Chosun and in nearby countries and regions, inspections have been strengthened at airports, ports and border checkpoint areas.”