A North Korean defector and a physician said the North’s poor test environment is the most serious problem that makes it difficult to diagnose a disease accurately.
Choi Jeong-hoon, who fled fromd the North in 2011 after working as a medical doctor, spoke on the North’s status of infectious diseases diagnosis at a symposium, hosted by the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in central Seoul, Thursday. The forum aimed to discuss how to respond to infectious diseases in case of active inter-Korean exchanges.
|Choi Jeong-hoon, who escaped from the North in 2011 after working as a medical doctor, speaks on the North’s status of infectious diseases diagnosis at a symposium, hosted by the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in central Seoul, Thursday.
Choi graduated from Chongjin Medical University in 2002. Now, he is a student at North Korea Studies Department of Korea University Graduate School and a researcher at the university’s public policy research institute.
Choi said the North’s test equipment is so outdated to maintain laboratories’ temperature at a proper level. Such poor environment makes even blood type tests inaccurate, he said.
“Examination facilities are so dilapidated that doctors can’t possibly diagnose infectious diseases. In the North, it is almost impossible to make a precise diagnosis or provide proper treatment. There is no policy measure to tackle this issue,” Choi said.
He went on to say that diagnostic reagents, microscopes, and incubators were in shortage. There were not enough experimental equipment, and necessary infrastructure such as electricity and water supply was also poor, he added.
“North Koreans used microscopes that were 40 or 50 years old. They even used a microscope used during the Japanese colonial rule,” Choi said.
In the cold winter, it was difficult to keep the laboratory at the proper temperature because it was hard to heat. Many hospitals found it difficult to do blood tests, according to Choi.
“There were many cases of deaths caused by adverse reactions of blood transfusion. The reason was that physicians misjudged blood type tests because they couldn’t maintain the lab temperature properly and transfused the wrong blood. I witnessed such absurd situation,” he said.
Choi went on to say that since it is difficult to make an accurate diagnosis, North Korean doctors tend to refer to the symptoms they learned from medical textbooks.
“Doctors can’t give the correct diagnosis to patients whose symptoms do not appear in the book. Some doctors use antibiotics first, and if the patient reacts to this, they assume a related disease,” he said.
Choi also noted that the North does not have scientific technologies and pharmaceutical systems to produce or store vaccines.
“It is difficult to keep the aided vaccines under refrigeration. Even if there is equipment, the North cannot use them because of lack of energy such as electricity,” he said.
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