About the Author
View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Over 28,000 North Koreans contracted Influenza A in just one week last month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Thursday, suggesting the country is undergoing a “rapidly developing outbreak.”
The IFRC has issued an Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) on the outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1), following the DPRK Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)’s announcement on January 26 that 81,640 North Koreans were suffering from the flu.
Between 17 and 23 January, there was additional 51,685 suspected cases and new 28,375 infectees, the IFRC reported.
Information handed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by the MoPH on January 25 showed 178,259 influenza-like illness (ILI) cases and 110,015 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza A across the country.
“It is worth noting that due to lack of testing equipment the actual figure of cases positive for H1N1 is likely to be higher,” the report stipulated. “MoPH figures point to a rapidly developing outbreak.”
The graph showed that the number of suspected cases rose in all provinces and in the major cities of Pyongyang, Nampo, and Rason.
Pyongyang accounted for 16.90 percent of 51,685 suspected cases – the highest of all provices.
The DPRK Red Cross Society (RCS) has selected three provinces – South Hamgyong, North and South Phyongan – as “priority areas to support the response in the prevention and control of the influenza outbreak.”
The WHO has dispatched a total of 6500 dosages of Oseltamivir, an antiviral drug, which were scheduled to be delivered to the country during the final week of January and first week of February.
The MoPH has asked the WHO to provide 30,000 of the tablets.
The EPoA will also target “373,000 direct beneficiaries and 2.5 million indirect beneficiaries, who are living in high-risk provinces for Influenza A outbreak.”
“The objective is to reduce the morbidity and mortality of the targeted population due to Influenza A outbreak during the project period.”
The project is expected to continue for four months until June 7 this year and will require CHF303,779 (around USD $324,064) in Disaster Relief Emergency Funds (DREF).
North Korea will “procure and distribute non-food items for 500 health institutions in three highly affected provinces.”
UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, the IFRC said, were also increasingly 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.
“Additionally, the response to the current outbreak has been complicated due to the severe shortage of antiviral medicine, rapid testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer.”
North Korean outlet Dawn on Wednesday released a rare report admitting to an outbreak of serious flu as having occurred in December 2017.
The online outlet said Pyongyang had “urgently organized” a non-permanent State Emergency Anti-Epidemic Committee to prohibit new-type influenza.
North Korea also suffered an outbreak of influenza in 2009, when the government asked the WHO to help prevent the spread of the so-called swine flu.
At the time, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a statement admitting to the outbreak of H1N1 “in some areas of the DPRK.”
The Rodong Sinmun in January reported that emergency quarantine measures have been taken “more strictly” at entry points including airports and ports to prevent the outbreak of the new-type flu.
There was no mention in the article, however, of the number of North Koreans affected.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: UNICEF