Authorities at a forced labor camp in Dongrim County, North Pyongan Province, have recently suspended family visits and banned outside food from being sent into the camp after an outbreak of paratyphoid and typhoid fever among some of the facility’s inmates, Daily NK has learned. 

“In mid-September, more than 20 patients with paratyphoid and typhoid fever appeared at a forced labor camp in Dongrim County,” a source in North Pyongan Province told the Daily NK on Monday. “The Ministry of Social Security, provincial security bureau, county party committee and county Ministry of Social Security office helped mobilize the local anti-epidemic office and capable doctors to deal with the situation.”

After some of the prisoners complained of sudden abdominal pain or continued fevers, the camp’s officials immediately alerted their superiors. They drew connections between the symptoms they saw and COVID-19 and believed that the outbreaks should be taken seriously, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Daily NK. 

Staff from a local disease control office and nearby doctors were quickly mobilized to conduct medical tests on the patients. According to the source, they began full-fledged efforts to treat the sick people after diagnosing them with having paratyphoid and typhoid.

The source said that the authorities have focused on poor water quality as a possible culprit of the outbreak. “Inminban meetings were held at district offices during the evening of Sept. 20. During the meetings, instructions were issued to boil water before drinking and locals living near the Dongrim labor camp were ordered not to go near the camp,” the source said, using a term referring to North Korea’s lowest administrative unit. 

According to the source, 19 people who had been released from the labor camp in late September have not been able to return home and are currently in quarantine at Dongrim County People’s Hospital undergoing blood, urine and temperature tests. “There are plans for them to return to their places of residence after Oct. 10 [Party Foundation Day],” he added. 

Daily NK was unable to confirm the exact cause of the outbreak at the labor camp but the source said that the most likely culprit is “bacteria” in food sent into the camp from visiting family members. That may be why the Ministry of Social Security, which administers the facility, has decided to ban family visits until the sick people recover.

“Inmates at the labor camp must perform a lot of hard labor, but I’m hearing that [the inmates] are unable to perform that well on the food currently provided by the camp authorities, and [the inmates] are openly complaining they will have difficulties carrying out their work if they can no longer receive the food sent in by their families,” the source said. 

The source noted that the inmates are worried that they will be unable to bear the intense levels of labor required of them in October and November if they cannot obtain food from their families. During these months, inmates are typically forced to head into the mountains to collect logs and firewood. 

The families of the inmates are also lamenting the fact they will be unable to send food into the facility, he added.

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

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.