About the Author
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea’s ability to withstand a major infectious disease outbreak ranks among the worst in the world, according to a new global public health study made public in recent days.
The study, conducted jointly by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), highlighted the DPRK’s severe lack of public health infrastructure, trained medical personnel, ability to communicate important safety information — and commitment to improving them.
The study noted that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address,” but the DPRK’s position was particularly low, coming in at third-to-last out of the 195 nations included in the index.
“Because infectious diseases know no borders, all countries must prioritize and exercise the capabilities required to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to public health emergencies,” the report said.
“Every country also must be transparent about its capabilities to assure neighbors it can stop an outbreak from becoming an international catastrophe.”
The report covered six categories of preparedness for a potential disease outbreak or other catastrophic health event: prevention, early detection, rapid response to stop the spread, ability to treat the sick and protect health workers, commitment to improving these categories, and overall vulnerability to an outbreak.
The DPRK was close to the bottom in nearly every category, with an overall ranking in the third-to-last position, ahead of only Somalia and Equatorial Guinea.
For the “rapid response and mitigation of the spread of an epidemic” category, North Korea ranked last.
The new report — the 2019 Global Health Security Index — also comes as state media in Pyongyang have emphasized a need for the country to modernize its medical infrastructure.
On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was reported in the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) to have visited a medical device factory under construction, the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory.
According to the state media report, Kim said that the factory would be producing “badly needed” equipment for the country.
“He acknowledged the factory was built into a high-tech factory capable of mass-producing different kinds of highly efficient medical appliances which are badly needed by hospitals in the country,” KCNA said, referring to Kim Jong Un.
“Stressing that it is important to produce lots of medical apparatuses vital for protecting and promoting the people’s life but they have to be of high quality, above all, he said in earnest tone that it is precisely an issue related to the outlook on the people,” it said.
North Korean state media does not appear to have commented on the country’s position in the new public health index.
Featured image: KCNA