The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) has released over 300,000 Swiss Francs from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) in response to a continuing outbreak of the Influenza A H1N1 virus in North Korea, the humanitarian group announced on Monday.
The release of the 303,779 Swiss Francs follows information shared by DPRK authorities to the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 25, revealing 178,259 influenza-like illness (ILI) cases and 110,015 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A across the country.
The funds will be used to support the DPRK Red Cross in fighting what the IFRC has described as a “rapidly developing” outbreak and represents the full amount estimated to be required to complete the organization’s Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) issued on February 9.
“These funds will help the Red Cross to protect the health of 373,000 of the most vulnerable people such as health workers, older people, people with pre-existing illnesses and children,” Gwendolyn Pang, the acting head of IFRC’s country office in the DPRK, was quoted as saying in a press release on Monday.
The DPRK Ministry of Public Health previously informed the IFRC in January that four people had died from the virus between December 1 and January 23 and the statistics shared with the WHO two days later reflect a growing issue in the country.
“The Red Cross will improve basic hygiene by providing frontline health workers in 500 health facilities with disposable gloves and masks, surveillance in high risk communities, training volunteers and going door-to-door to spread health messages about the risks of influenza and how to prevent it,” the press release read.
Although the IFRC stated that all provinces of the country are affected by the outbreak, the funds will go to operations in only three: North Phyongan, South Phyongan, and South Hamgyong.
According to the budget outlined in the EPoA, 175,500 Swiss Francs will be dedicated to relief items, construction and supplies – the majority of which will be water, sanitation, hygiene, medical and first aid related.
A total of 23,000 has been set aside for logistics, 34,000 for training and workshops, 15,000 for travel and communications related costs and 18,500 for indirect support costs. 37,500 Swiss Francs has also been allocated for “Vehicles”.
The IFRC previously claimed that UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions were hampering disease control efforts within the country.
“Unfortunately, due to the imposition of sanctions the population in DPRK has not been able to benefit from vaccination against seasonal influenza,” the organization said in January.
Other humanitarian organizations in the country, too, have said that UNSC measures are having adverse effects on operations.
The alleged issues were the subject of several letters and accompanying documentation, compiled by United Nations Resident Coordinator in Pyongyang Tapan Mishra – who has served in the role since 2015 – and submitted to senior UN personnel working on emergency relief and humanitarian affairs.
The letters, seen by NK News last year, allege – among other issues – that banking channels to support humanitarian activities in North Korea are currently facing major hurdles, with some transactions even outside the country being blocked by banks concerned about their relations with other financial institutions.
Despite the alleged issues caused by sanctions, an IFRC Regional Communications Manager told NK News on Tuesday that the organization does “foresee any issues” related to the transfer of the 303,000 Swiss Francs to the DPRK.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: OCHA/David Ohana
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