North Korean authorities and international financing organization the Global Fund this week agreed to start a previously-delayed grant for the treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), a spokesperson for the group told NK News on Thursday.
The implementation of the grant — worth $41.7 million — has reportedly already begun, with the tuberculosis and malaria components to be run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The MDR-TB component, in turn, will be implemented by the Eugene Bell Foundation, a U.S. NGO with extensive experience in treating the illness in some of North Korea’s most deprived regions.
While the grant was first approved by the Global Fund’s board in September last year, it was revealed the following month that DPRK authorities had yet to approve it, though no details were made public regarding the reason for the delay.
The delay came at a critical time: the Eugene Bell Foundation that month warned that North Korea stood to face a shortage of medication needed to treat TB — a move it tied to the Global Fund’s controversial 2018 decision to end its DPRK operations — with stocks projected to run out in June.
Fears of a shortage may now be partially alleviated, with Global Fund Head of Communications Seth Faison telling NK News in an email Thursday that the group has “reached agreement with partners for a consolidated grant for tuberculosis and malaria in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
The group also appears to have secured new assurances that the fund will not be mismanaged — concerns that had previously prompted its decision to withdraw from North Korea two years ago.
“With these revised implementation arrangements, the Global Fund is confident that partners can serve more people affected by tuberculosis and malaria, and achieve required levels of assurance that the grant is being implemented effectively,” Faison said.
“The agreement was made possible by extensive collaboration by technical and development partners, and by the Government of DPRK,” he added.
“The Global Fund remains committed to supporting the health of people in DPRK, and thanks all partners for their continuous cooperation and collaboration during the grant negotiations.”
Prior to its temporary decision to withdraw from North Korea, Global Fund had disbursed some $103,370,028 towards health aid projects in the North, the majority of which went towards the treatment of TB and MDR-TB.
Tuberculosis and its multi-drug resistant variants are widely seen as one of North Korea’s most urgent public health crises, with the country suffering one of the highest rates of infection on earth.
“The North Korean health system, like that of other developing countries, is ill-equipped to deal with such a complex disease,” Kwonjune J. Seung, Medical Director at the Eugene Bell Foundation, wrote in a 2018 op-ed for NK News protesting that withdrawal of funding.
“TB is common in all provinces, in rural and urban areas, and strikes down young people at every level of society.”
Edited by James Fretwell