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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The Eugene Bell Foundation on Friday proposed the establishment of a national tuberculosis laboratory at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).
In comments following the NGO’s head Stephen Linton and staff’s recent trip to the DPRK, authorities reportedly asked for help building the lab.
Eugene Bell workers visited the North for three weeks between October 16 and November 6 to conduct work on the treatment of patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) – widely regarded to be an urgent humanitarian crisis in the DPRK.
Speaking at a news conference, Eugene Bell adviser Choi Se-moon said Pyongyang was requesting support from the NGO in the construction of the TB testing laboratory.
Choi said the DPRK Ministry of Public Health was aware of the role of South Korea’s National Tuberculosis Association and its research institute in developing new ways to monitor and treat TB patients, and that they believed the two could be partners in the project.
“We propose to establish the national TB standard laboratory at the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” she said, asking for support from the South Korean government.
Choi said the two Koreas would be able to work together to provide diagnostic tests for patients suffering from MDR-TB in the South Pyongan, North and South Hwanghae, and Kangwon provinces, which are relatively close to South Korea, if the national TB lab were set up close to the joint inter-Korean liaison office.
Kaesong’s stable electricity supply, she added, would mean there would be no difficulty in using TB diagnostic devices, stressing that these are not sanctioned under UN Security Council Resolutions.
“The venue for exchange between South and North Korean tuberculosis experts with the aim of handing down instructions of devices,” she said.
Speaking at the press conference, Eugene Bell Chairman Stephen Linton also called on the South Korean government to help his NGO store building materials in the KIC, emphasizing the need to deliver the goods via an overland route.
Chinese customs, he said, has put brakes on the supply of the building materials due to concerns about sanctions violations.
Linton suggested the South Korean government, which has experience of delivering construction materials during the establishment of the joint liaison office earlier in the year, could provide support.
The Eugene Bell Foundation plans to send an official document to the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) to ask for Seoul’s support in transporting goods to their treatment facilities in Kaesong.
“I hope we can make the part of the Kaesong Industrial Complex a channel for humanitarian aid,” he said, adding there are “a number of MDR-TB patients” in the nearby city.
The Eugene Bell Foundation also asked the South Korean government for help in gaining an exemption from UN sanctions committee for the construction of treatment wards in-country.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Eugene Bell Foundation