International financing organization the Global Fund is ending its North Korea grants for the treatment of tuberculosis and malaria, the group announced in a recent statement.
The group would no longer work on North Korea projects due to concerns that it could not guarantee its in-country resources were being managed correctly, said the group – also known by its full name as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“The Global Fund has established robust arrangements to monitor and supervise the grants we make to combat tuberculosis and malaria in DPRK, including a strict zero-cash-advance policy and detailed records on delivery of medicine and health supplies,” the statement, released on February 21, reads.
The news will see a project which since 2010 has seen USD$103,370,028 be disbursed towards work in North Korea come to end, though the fund says that it remains “committed to supporting the health of the people in DPRK, and hope to re-engage when possible.”
The Global Fund has in the past been a partner of a number of international organizations working on the ground in-country, including UNICEF, and has also provided insecticide-treated nets for the prevention of malaria.
But February’s decision was, according to the organization, driven by concerns that funds might be misused.
“…despite additional safeguards, we remain concerned that the unique operating environment in the DPRK prevents us from being able to provide the Board with the required level of assurance and risk management around the deployment of resources and the effectiveness of the grants,” it said.
Tuberculosis remains one North Korea’s most pressing public health concerns, with the country believed to have some of the highest rates of infection in the world – though rates are believed to have dropped in recent years.
The Global Fund reports that it has treated 194,000 cases of tuberculosis since 2010.
But the news also represents a major blow to malaria treatment in the country: the Global Fund is the sole organization granting treatment support to the DPRK, providing around USD$3.6 million to anti-malaria projects in 2016 and USD$6.8 million and USD$3.5 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) malaria is the most prevalent form of the virus in the DPRK. Eradicated in the early 1970s, it “resurged” when North Korea’s economy collapsed during the famine of the late 1990s, the WHO’s country office said in December, when it was reported that cases in North Korea had fallen for the fourth year in a row.
The number of malaria cases fell from 296,540 in 2001 to 7436 in 2007, but the country suffered a “small outbreak” between 2008 and 2011.
The DPRK is aiming for malaria-free status by 2025, with no deaths from the disease having been reported since 2010.
One source said the news was unexpected.
“What I can say is that it was a surprise,” an informed NGO source working in North Korea said.
“The reasons also remain unclear: TB is an important health problem in the DPRK. And for malaria, they were on the way of eradicating it.”
It also comes amid an increasingly tough environment for international aid projects in North Korea, with international sanctions reportedly having an increasing on-the-ground impact on delivery to the North.
A document obtained by NK News last December suggested that multilateral and unilateral sanctions were causing “unintended consequences” on aid delivery, leading to myriad delays, prohibitions, and supply-side cancellations.
Deliveries of drugs to treat tuberculosis (TB) and malaria, in particular, have reportedly been delayed.
Featured image: UNICEF