North Korean vice-minister of Public Health Kim Hyong Hun has urged the Global Fund to reconsider its recent decision to end grants for the treatment of tuberculosis and malaria in the DPRK, state media reported on Tuesday.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim sent a letter to Peter Sands – the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – on March 10, which was subsequently published by the outlet on Tuesday.
“I strongly urge that the Global Fund should consider carefully about the humanitarian impact that could be incurred from the closure of grants, assume due responsibility for it and take measures to put the issue on the right track in conformity with the humanitarian mission before it is too late,” Kim wrote, according to KCNA.
“We appreciate the assistance provided by the Global Fund for its substantial contribution to our efforts for eradicating TB and Malaria in the DPRK.”
Kim added that the North Korean government had been “making progress” to eradicate TB and Malaria with the assistance of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
On February 21, the international financing organization issued a statement saying that its decision was made as it could not guarantee its in-country resources were being managed correctly.
“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.
“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.
The body did say that it remains committed to supporting the health of people in North Korea and that it hopes to re-engage in the future if possible.
But North Korea rejected the Global Fund’s statement, instead blaming the move on pressure from the United States.
“Although the Global Fund claims that the sudden closure of tuberculosis and malaria grants is due to the ‘unique operating environment’ in the DPRK, it can’t be seen other than the outcome of the pressure of some hostile forces,” Kim’s letter read.
“This can be proved by the fact that the current closure of tuberculosis and malaria grants was decided without any prior discussion with UNICEF and WHO, both the Principal Recipient and the Sub-Recipient of TB & Malaria programs and moreover, it is timed with announcement of the ‘maximum pressure’ imposed on the DPRK by the U.S.,” it added.
Tuberculosis remains one North Korea’s most pressing public health concerns and even though infection rates are believed to have dropped in recent years, they are still among the highest in the world.
However, 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.
The announcement will see a project which has donated USD$103,370,028 to North Korea since 2010 come to end by June 30.
In his letter, Kim raised humanitarian concerns saying that the ending of the grants was an “inhumane measure” and that UN bodies believe the risk of the spread of TB means that the grants “should never be closed on any account”.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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