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‘New treatment guideline for N. Korean defectors to serve as road map’
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.06.15 17:59
  • Updated 2018.06.15 17:59
  • comments 0

The Association of Healthcare for Korean Unification published a medical treatment guideline for North Korean patients and healthcare professionals who treat North Koreans to address problem areas of treating defectors in the South.

Members of the Association of Healthcare for Korean Unification spoke about how the guideline was created and its significance, at a news conference held at Yonsei University in Seoul, on Friday.

“The two biggest characteristics of North Korean healthcare are free treatment and local treatment based on ‘family doctors’ that take care of a designated region. North Koreans who are used to this kind of system and other factors could have complaints about the South Korean healthcare system,” said Professor Lee Hye-won, director of the association.

“The differences between North and South Korean healthcare could result in confusion and miscommunication, posing obstacles for much-needed treatment,” Lee said.

The guidelines aim to alleviate some of the confusion for both patients and physicians who must work through various cultural and linguistic barriers during the treatment process. It also serves as the backbone to treating North Koreans in case of reunification, serving as a basic roadmap for healthcare treatment.

The guideline was made by analyzing thousands of papers from 1980 to 2017 and through real-life surveys with medical professionals who treated North Korean defectors as well as the voices of defectors who have experienced difficulties with South Korean healthcare.

According to Professor Jeon Woo-taek from Yonsei University College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Medical Education, one of the significant problem areas concerns the abuse or misuse of medications, addressed by the eighth and ninth steps on the treatment guideline.

Professors Lee Hye-won, Kim Sin-gon, Jeon Woo-taek and Shin Hyun-young, from left to right, talk about the publication of treatment guidelines for North Korean defectors, at a news conference held at Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul Friday.

“In the North, people tend to depend on medication to treat symptoms without knowing the cause of the symptoms. North Koreans also expect the drug to work instantaneously,” Professor Jeon said. “Because of these reasons, North Korean defectors have been reported to use a large amount of medication or switch drugs relatively quickly. From the perspective of a South Korean doctor, it could be seen as abuse or misuse.”

The guideline for North Korean defectors points out that medication takes time to produce effects and that too much medication could be toxic, calling for compliance with physician orders.

It also advises physicians to explain in detail the medication effects so the patient can understand. Step nine advises explaining when medication should start working as well as the abuse and overuse of medication.

“We made the 10-step guidelines considering the current problems by gathering various opinions of North Korean defectors until now. This will be meaningful for not just the 32,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea but also work as educational material for exchanges with North Korean healthcare and North Koreans,” Jeon said. “The guidelines are expected to be used in a variety of ways realistically and for reunification.”


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