On Monday, Daily NK obtained a picture of Chinese medicine being sold at a pharmacy in Pyongyang. The medicine appears to have been recently imported from China and has been distributed to the military along with the capital city. 

The photo (below) shows a small box of medicine called, in Chinese, Lianhua Qingwen Jiao Nang, along with a silver-colored pouch that contains the drug capsules. The instructions on the box say that the medicine is effective against influenza and can also be used to treat symptoms such as high fevers, chills, muscle pains, runny noses, coughing, and headaches.

The National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China had published a study claiming that the same medicine, which is made from medicinal herbs – including forsythia, jamahuang, eoseongcho (Houttuynia cordata) and licorice – is effective against the coronavirus.

North Korean authorities have distributed the medicine in the country as a fever and pain reducer, selling it for KPW 15,000.

A picture obtained from a source in North Korea showing the Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen Jiaonang. (Daily NK)

The Chinese medicine is far more expensive than the fever reducers and painkillers available in local markets; however, people with an immediate need for medicine are reportedly relieved at the mere fact that the drugs are available for purchase.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang, basic drugs such as fever reducers and painkillers were not available in the city’s pharmacies prior to May 16. From that date, however, Pyongyangites have been able to purchase fever reducers, cold medicines, and antidiarrheal drugs in small quantities at pharmacies.

Pharmicists are carefully checking the citizenship cards of those who purchase medicine in addition to recording their symptoms and the types of drugs they purchase, the source said. 

He also noted that military medical officials dispatched to the city’s pharmacies are ensuring that individuals purchase no more than two boxes of medicine, ostensibly to prevent people from hoarding drugs. 

North Korean authorities are also encouraging people to purchase medicine through their inminban (people’s units), which designate teams to visit pharmacies and buy all the medicine needed by members of a single inminban all at once. In this way, the authorities appear keen to prevent Pyongyangites from flooding the city’s pharmacies. 

Meanwhile, the authorities are distributing the medicine officially imported from China to the military’s medical authorities. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered that soldiers be provided with the medicine given that the military appears to have completely exhausted its supply of “wartime emergency medicine.” 

The source pointed out, however, that a significant amount of the medicine sent to military medical authorities do not list production or expiration dates.

A photo of the Chinese drug “Purexitong,” which is often used in North Korea as a fever reducer and pain reliever. (Daily NK)

Daily NK was unable to confirm whether the medicine without manufacturing or expiration dates was officially imported by the North Korean authorities or was procured by the country’s trade organizations. The severe shortage of medicine, however, appears to have prompted the authorities to accept all drugs despite their unclear production and expiration dates. 

Daily NK also understands that medicine officially imported from China recently has not yet been distributed to provincial cities. 

Pharmacies in Sinuiju have been selling Chinese medicine such as fever reducers, painkillers, and cold medication since May 16. However, most of these products appear to have been smuggled into the country and are generally unlicensed drugs.

Daily NK was able to obtain a photo of medicine being sold at a pharmacy in Sinuiju (above, right). The drug, “Purexitong,” is an unlicensed drug containing paracetamol, often used in North Korea as a fever reducer and pain reliever.

Given North Korea’s medicine shortage, unlicensed drugs smuggled into the country appear to be on sale in pharmacies in the country’s provincial areas. 

Translated by Youngheon Kim. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.