MOSCOW, October 14 (RIA Novosti) - In spite of strained relations between the USA and North Korea, the Eugene Bell Foundation, a Washington-based charity, continues to assist in eradicating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which plagues the isolated Asian state, AP reports.
Scheduled to visit North Korea later this month, The Eugene Bell Foundation currently supervises 12 treatment centers, providing local staff instruction and modern hi-tech medical equipment. The charity pays two visits to the country annually, shipping efficient and costly drugs.
Such a close partnership might seem unusual, as North Korea labels the USA as its primary threat. Moreover, Washington has accused Pyongyang of alleged human rights violation and nuclear weaponry development. At present, the republic even detains an American tourist who is to stand before the court for leaving a Bible in a hotel, described by authorities as “a hostile act”, as The Independent reported. The advancement of Christianity has been viewed as a method for American intrusion into the totalitarian state. The Eugene Bell Foundation, having pronounced Christian roots, is therefore a welcome guest in the largely enclosed North.
“Their agenda and our agenda is to save the lives of these people and put a stop to this curable, deadly disease”, the executive director John Rogers was quoted as saying by AP.
According to North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health, “multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is the number 1, 2, and 3 biggest health emergency”.
Economic disorders, natural disasters and energy gaps in North Korea during the 1990s triggered a famine, taking the lives of reportedly nearly three million people and unleashing a tuberculosis outbreak. The secretive state has been unable to overcome the disease by its own forces.
Tuberculosis, an airborne bacterial infection, mostly affects the lungs and has a high death rate, if poorly treated. The World Health Organization (WHO) assessed the number of new TB cases in North Korea to be 100,000.
Due to insufficient funds, North Korea lacks up-to-date medical equipment and drugs, and still uses obsolete methods of treatment.
The Eugene Bell Foundation’s medical director Dr. Kwonjune Seung compared the spread of tuberculosis in North Korea to similar situations in Russia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, when the collapse of the Soviet Union impeded healthcare systems.
The Eugene Bell Foundation was established in 1995, primarily aimed at fostering education in North Korea. People of Korean origin living abroad essentially support the NGO. A significant share of funds has been donated by South Koreans who have relatives in the North. In 1998 Pyongyang asked the Foundation to focus its efforts on providing better medical equipment. In 2008 North Koreans were exhausted by a long-lasting multidrug tuberculosis outbreak and the NGO threw them a lifeline.