Tuberculosis is the biggest public health problem in North Korea, and the United States is playing a part in making the issue grow worse instead of solving it.
Tuberculosis is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly attacks a person's lungs. North Korea has one of the world's highest rates of tuberculosis infection outside sub-Saharan Africa, with over 110,000 people infected each year and thousands dying from the disease.
The United States Is Making Tuberculosis In North Korea Worse
Dr. O Yong Il, the chief of the National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory of North Korea, is hoping that a machine will help deal with the tuberculosis problem in North Korea. GeneXpert, the U.S.-made machine that took years to acquire, will allow his laboratory to complete tuberculosis tests in just two hours, dramatically shortening the current wait of two months.
Unfortunately, GeneXpert requires cartridges to run, which have become impossible to acquire from the United States due to the international sanctions on North Korea that have been championed by the Trump administration. This has prevented not just the GeneXpert cartridges, but also other lifesaving medicine and supplies for tuberculosis patients from entering North Korea.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria also recently pulled the plug on its grants to North Korea, a move that has perplexed humanitarian workers and medical researchers working in the country. The Global Fund said that it was North Korea's "unique operating environment" that forced it to stop the grants.
Wider Tuberculosis Outbreak May Happen Soon
The stoppage of the entry of medical supplies and the end of The Global Fund grants, however, may be just the start of worse things to come, not just for North Korea but possibly also for its neighbors.
The world's medical community fears a wider tuberculosis outbreak.
"An explosion of MDR-TB in North Korea would take decades to clean up and could detrimentally affect the public health of bordering countries like China and South Korea," wrote Harvard Medical School doctors in an open letter to the Lancet medical journal.
Tuberculosis claims 1.6 million lives per year, and when left untreated, will prove to be fatal for half of the people who get infected with it. It is also so contagious that each tuberculosis case is expected to lead to 10 or 20 more infections.
Tuberculosis has been brought under control in developed countries through vaccines and medicine. North Korea, however, does not have such a luxury, and the United States is championing sanctions that are making the country's tuberculosis problem worse.