• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • United Nations Defends North Korean Health Care System

    North Korea came under criticism from Amnesty International last week for the dismal state of the country’s health care system. While North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) has a well-earned reputation for disregarding the interests of its people – malnutrition is common and many of the country’s people face serious health problems arising from disease and poverty – the government has faced increasing economic difficulties that have undermined the state run (virtually everything in North Korea is state run) health care system to an appalling degree.

    The Amnesty International report provides truly horrific details and testimonials from North Koreans. The introduction to the Amnesty report clearly lays out the vast difference between North Korea’s claims on its provision of health care and the reality:

    Interviews with North Koreans depict a country that professes to have a universal (free) health care system but in reality struggles to provide even the most basic service to the population. Health facilities are rundown and operate with frequent power cuts and no heat. Medical personnel often do not receive salaries, and many hospitals function without medicines and other essentials. As doctors have begun charging for their services, which is illegal under North Korea’s universal health care system, the poor cannot access full medical care, especially medicines and surgery.

    Importantly, the report recognizes that fact that the dismal health care system in North Korea is “in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies.”

    Compare this against the assessment of Margaret Chan, Director General of the U.N.’s World Health Organization. Following a visit to the Country in April 2010, Dr. Chan observed:

    Now based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have [a health care system] that most other developing countries would envy.

    For example, DPRK has no lack of doctors and nurses, as we have seen in other developing countries where most of their doctors have migrated to other places. But DPRK has enough doctors and nurses, they have a very elaborate health infrastructure, starting from the central to the provincial to the district level….

    People in the country do not have to worry about a lack of financial resources to access care….

    [W]alking is quite well observed in that country, and I suggest that is why I didn’t see many obese people.

    Chen’s comments were heavily criticized when reported and rightly so. The lack of “obese people” is due to chronic food shortages in the country, exacerbated by the government’s opposition to letting farmers sell their crops for profit. A large percentage of the populace falls below international standards of malnutrition and an estimated one million North Koreans died of starvation and starvation-related diseases in the 1990s. The country needs massive amounts of international food aid every year to avoid a repetition of starvation.

    As for the rest of Chan’s observations, Fox News summarized parts of the Amnesty report which detailed how doctors “sometimes [perform] barbaric amputations without anesthesia and [work] by candlelight for payment in cigarettes, in hospitals lacking essential medicine, heat and power.” Doctors work without pay from the government and supposedly free medical services are routinely denied to North Koreans unless they can pay the doctors illicitly in cigarettes, alcohol or money.

    While many developing countries have very poor health care systems, North Korea seems unlikely to elicit envy from any of them.

    However, far from being embarrassed, WHO seems ready to double down on their gaff. When Amnesty issued their report, WHO spokesman Paul Garwood criticized the Amnesty report as outdated and unscientific, being based on comments from “people who aren’t in the country.”

    Imagine that. The dictatorial North Korean government tightly monitors and controls access to its citizens by NGOs and foreign media and has a disturbing habit of killing or sentencing to labor camps those citizens who criticize its policies. I wonder why Amnesty had to rely on testimonials by people who had managed to escape the brutal regime.

    While Amnesty International has it flaws and biases, WHO’s attack on the Amnesty report is a ridiculous denial of reality.

    WHO’s knowledge of the North Korean health care system obviously extends beyond Chan’s two and a half days of dog and pony shows designed to make North Korea look good. After all, they have an extensive cooperative program with North Korea. They, more than any international organization, should know the poor state of North Korea’s health care system. This makes it all the more disturbing that WHO is so eager to dismiss testimonials on North Korea’s health care system by those who lived with it every day until they were lucky enough to get out of the country in one piece.

    The comments by WHO officials about North Korea go far beyond the usual U.N. tendency to resist criticizing or portraying its member states in a bad light. Indeed, since they embarrass WHO and deflect vital attention away from the health needs of the North Korean people, the only plausible beneficiary of the comments is the North Korean regime. Why would WHO wish to defend the North Korean government?

    This entire episode provides further evidence of just how far WHO has wandered from its mission of the “attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” The policies and repression of the North Korean government actively undermine WHO’s mission and the organization should not shy away from criticizing the DPRK and its policies that cause so much harm. As international health experts Roger Bate and Karen Porter conclude in ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives, it is time for WHO to do some fundamental self-assessment.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to United Nations Defends North Korean Health Care System

    1. Pingback: United Nations Defends North Korean Health Care System – Heritage.org (blog) :Health Care Systems

    2. Barry N. Schmidt says:

      No Surprise here. The UN itself is a dog-and-pony show in every respect. I would love to have someone explain just why we continue to spend millions of our tax dollars to support this toothless organization that has done little or nothing to ensure a better world. Margaret Chen must have been paid off by the North Koreans to make such a stupid statement. Either that, or she is just another of Obama's hacks. We all know Obama is a weak, spineless appeaser who feels that if our defense system is dismantled, totalitarians from such countries as Russia, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran will "like" us. It's like giving tribute money to a school bully, even when the school bully could and should have the crap beat out of him.

    3. Pingback: United Nations Defends North Korean Health Care System | NKNews.org - North Korea News & Information Resource

    4. Ardath Blauvelt says:

      The UN, WHO, EU and just about every other international organization are anti-capitalist, in my opinion because capitalism affords the least amount of control to central authority. All of these orgs have central authority aspirations. Thus, a Q-Tip and a bandaid for all is considered "enviable universal health care" as long as it is enshrined in authoritarian law. I truly don't know how these people sleep at night.

    5. Pingback: France: ‘Best’ Health Care?

    6. mitchell anderson ph says:

      Although I have never had the privilage to visit North Korea, from everything I've read,studied, and heard from some Korean people themselves the DPRK or North Korea has a very fine system of medical care. It is written and said in many sourses that North Korea offers some of the finest modern state of the art medical care to ALL it's citizens completely free of charge. It is said their citizens are well taken care of in every way when addressing medicall care. It has also been stated that some other counteries are indeed envious of the fine medical care that North Kortea provides for all it's citizens. Also it is reputed they have some of the finest doctor's in the world, including all fields of medicine. Their surgeical technics are also said to be "state of the art" All without any charge to their citizens. Another point to be made is heart disease is at an all time low in North Korea. They don't eat a diet full of cholestoral, animal fat, fast foods and all the other things that can contribute to heart disease. It is said there are very few obsese people in the DPRK. It all goes back to diet. It would serve other countries well to help their citizens lose some of the grotesque obesity that are prevelant in other countries. Never believe everything you read in the mainstream media. I have done extensive studies on this subject or I would not have written this. Mitchell Anderson Phoenix Arizona

    7. Pingback: Ambulance Financing-auto

    8. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      The North Korean Health Care System (can it be called a System?) is the model for our New American Health Care, that is after our doctors don't get paid (like that could never happen here) and after our clinics have been run out of business by massive fines. Universal health care sounds so good in theory, but in actual practice it looks like North Korea's health care (just let them die.) Isn't it just like the Corruptocrats at the U.N. to heap praise on bedlam. Nauseating to think my money has gone to those jokers when all I need is a few thousand bucks of preventative care and some anti-biotics once in a while.

      Brett? Do you actually believe we had a genuine Health Care Crisis in America? Surely we will have one when Obama is through!

      • name says:

        The report pointed out that North Korea was "the envy of the developing world" in healthcare, not that it was the best by any means. The North's life expectancy, 68, is two years below the world average of 70.

        Amnesty International is funded by the State Department so they can't really be taken at face value either.

    9. Maoist Rebel News says:

      This so-called report by AI was proven to be an absolute fraud: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-1066

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.