As the political landscape around the Korean Peninsula is changing quickly with the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, South Korea needs to push for inter-Korean healthcare cooperation programs more aggressively, an expert said.
The South should put a priority on fighting against tuberculosis in the North, he said. He also suggested installing an international infectious disease hospital and a research institute in Gaeseong, North Korea, and preparing for a “unified Korean medical license” for active exchanges of physicians.
|Shin Young-jeon, a professor at the preventive medicine department of Hanyang University Medical Center, speaks during a forum on how the two Koreas could cooperate in the healthcare sector at the National Assembly, on Monday.|
Shin Young-jeon, a professor at the preventive medicine department of Hanyang University Medical Center, expressed his views on how the two Koreas could cooperate in the healthcare sector in the future during a forum at the National Assembly on Monday.
“So far, experts had no choice but to approach the issue of the inter-Korean healthcare exchange cautiously. Now, however, things like the North-U.S. summit are happening,” Shin said. “Now is not the time only for thinking. We should broadly imagine what we could do.”
According to Shin, Pyongyang set telemedicine among physicians as a major healthcare policy and is seeking to link children’s hospitals. “Mankyongdae Hospital is developing a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on its own. The North wants to cooperate with the South in these areas,” he added.
The North’s healthcare system runs under the community-based structure, Shin noted. “The aid for the North should be community-based, rather than sector-based. This includes the healthcare sector, too,” he said.
He also mentioned details about how to support the North’s healthcare.
“The tuberculosis issue is not something that the private sector can address. The two health authorities should control it together. To do so, establishing an international infectious disease hospital and research lab in Kaesong should be the top priority,” Shin said.
He went on to suggest that the two Koreas review adopting a “unified Korean medical license” system. If a South Korean physician wishes to provide medical service in the North and a North Korean physician in the South, the government should make them receive official training, he said.
To prepare for such a system, the South’s state-run medical institutions could play an essential role in training North Korean doctors, he added.
Kim Jin-sook, head of the inter-Korean cooperation task force team at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said the inter-Korean exchange for healthcare requires discussions on who will do it, what to cooperate, and how to consider sanctions against the North.
“So many groups contact us, but it is important which group should take the initiative. However, what’s most important is to know what kind of programs the North’s health authorities want,” Kim said
She said it was quite challenging to know what the North’s Ministry of Public Health was thinking. Unless the South understands the exact structure of the North, it might fail to complete an exchange program with the North, she warned. “It is particularly important to recognize the public health ministry’s autonomy,” she emphasized.
Kim also said there was too much research work left for human exchanges in the healthcare sector.
“It is difficult to apply Germany’s unification case. As we have many complex issues, we should set up short-term and mid-term tasks,” she said.
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