South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Tuesday said it would allow the nonprofit Eugene Bell Foundation to send medical and building supplies to North Korea, the first such approval since the inauguration of Moon Jae-in in May.
EugeneBell said on June 15 that the organization had first requested permission from the MOU to send multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) medication and construction materials for makeshift hospital wards to the North on May 3, but were forced to resubmit the request with additional information on June 14.
“[We] allowed on June 26 to send the 1.9 billion South Korean Won (KRW, $1.67 million) worth of medication, construction materials for hospital wards and others worth – which were requested by Eugene Bell Foundation – to North Korea,” an unnamed official at the MOU told media.
The medical supplies are worth around 1.5 billion KRW ($1,320,405), and the building materials are valued at 350 million KRW ($308,094.50), the MOU said.
EugeneBell plans to transport the supplies by ship to North Korea’s Nampo port via China in July, according to the unification ministry.
In a move to expand treatment in North Korea, Chairman Stephen Linton unveiled his NGO’s plan to construct new hospital wards in North Korea this summer at a news conference held in mid-June.
The wards will mostly use prefabricated components to avoid violating international sanctions against Pyongyang, and the cost per building will be between $500 and $600.
“The government’s stance is to flexibly consider the civilian exchanges beyond the scope of the sanctions against North Korea, and therefore we review [this request] in accordance with that,” the MOU official said, explaining the reason for the approval.
“We consider the fact that the tuberculosis is a disease necessary for consistent treatment, that there is no possibility that the supplies sent [to the North] would be misused and [we] can continue monitoring.”
EugeneBell was unable to immediately provide comment when contacted by NK News.
The NGO has worked together with the South Korean company SY Panel Co., Ltd. for around three years to develop the wards.
SY Panel Co., Ltd. video demonstrating construction of makeshift hospital wards
Kim Joong-hwan, Director of Strategic Business Team at SY Panel, told NK News on Tuesday that EugeneBell plans to send 20 hospital wards in July, but that the company had signed a contract with the NGO for 300 wards which will be sent, in stages, over the course of the year.
“Each material is numbered like Lego, so people can assemble them in numerical order,” Kim said, adding that the wards are easy to put together and, therefore, reduce personnel costs.
“It takes only half a day to build the ward after the curing time for cement concrete.”
Kim said the buildings imitate the structure of a traditional Korean-style Hanok house, which is based on lightweight wood framing system. They consist of two separate rooms, one containing a kitchen.
The NGO visited North Korea from May 2 to May 23 this year to treat North Korean patients with MDR-TB, six months after their previous visit in Autumn last year. They also plan to visit the North on the first week of November this year.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Okedongmu Children in Korea, Taken at Kaesong on October 1, 2010
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