South Korea should consider that North Korea might introduce a national health insurance system or allow private health insurance when engaging in inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, a report said.
Cho Sung-eun, a research fellow at the Future Strategies Research Department of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), recently released the report on “Changes in North Korea's Public Healthcare and Outlook.”
Due to comprehensive sanctions and the lack of materials that ensued, the North Korean authorities cannot introduce new technologies in the healthcare sector and modernize facilities and equipment, according to Cho.
As the North’s system has limitations to mobilize supplies in full capacity, the universal health care is available only partially, and the medical delivery system does not meet the patients’ needs due to the shortage of drugs and medical devices, he added.
Cho went on to say that even though the North’s authorities are fully aware of the situation and strive to improve it, their typical top-down and showy activities do not yield meaningful achievements.
In the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the North’s authorities ordered an upgrade of military and civilian hospitals as a base for medical care of the local community. In the 2019 New Year speech, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un emphasized the need for modernization of the healthcare sector.
“Rodong Sinmun articles repeatedly show headlines that highlight the superiority of the socialist public health system. It seems the North Korean authorities are viewing that the vulnerability of basic medical care hurts the stability of the socialist system,” Cho said.
An article headlined “Assuring the supply of materials for pharmaceutical products is equal to protecting socialism” shows that the North is aware of the serious state of the medical sector, he added.
Cho’s report also said that sanctions against the North were causing a drug supply problem because imports of drugs and raw materials were banned, in addition to the North’s incompetency in drug making.
Such problems caused insufficient treatments for North Korean residents, he said. He took an example of “Jeongtongpyeong,” a Chinese-made narcotics-based pain killer banned in Korea, which North Koreans take it as a magic cure for every illness.
As other socialist countries shifted their health system to health insurance based one, North Korea could also adopt a similar system, Cho noted.
He said China, Vietnam, and socialist East European countries all adopted various types of health insurance including private ones to replace their centralized state-funded healthcare systems.
Cho predicted that the need for international support and exchanges to build a sustainable healthcare system in the North would increase.
Inter-Korean healthcare exchanges need detailed and concrete partnership instead of simple reliefs and aids. Real recovery of the North’s public health system can start with a change in overall governance and software, not with hardware,” he added.
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