More North Koreans look to traditional medicine for cures

Kang Mi Jin, Moon Dong Hui  |  2018-05-11 22:30

Medicinal plants at a health food store in Pyongyang.
Image: Daily NK

As distrust of Western medicine increases among North Koreans, a rising preference for traditional Korean medicine is emerging, report sources in the country.

People are now able to feed themselves, so theres more interest in maintaining health and receiving treatment for ailments, said a source in Ryanggang Province during a phone call with Daily NK on May 4. There are more and more people who prefer traditional Korean medicine to Western medicine.

The source reported that North Koreans know that Western medicine acts faster to relieve ailments, but there is a strong perception that it causes undesirable side effects. North Koreans often head to the northern part of the country to purchase medicinal plants that grow high up in the mountains if their ailments dont require quick medical attention, the source said.

Most markets located in the northern region of the country have more and more merchants selling professionally-presented medicinal products to meet the rising demand, the source continued. Root bark from various medicinal plants, elm tree bark, milk vetch root, and rhododendron leaves are sold as medicinal products.

Rumors of traditional Korean medicine completely curing ailments have spread among the population and led to an increase in demand for the products, said the source.

A source in North Hamgyong Province also reported that fake Western medicine produced illegally and sold widely in the markets has led to a growing negative perception toward Western drugs.

North Koreans typically go to the hospital to find out what they are suffering from and then get a prescription for traditional Korean medicine at respective pharmacies, he said. They then buy the medicine at the market and boil the medicinal leaves by themselves.

He further reported that there was a rise in students at medical schools who preferred traditional Korean medicine over more modern drugs, noting, Theres also word that the number of North Koreans who use illicit drugs has fallen due to the rising popularity of traditional Korean medicine."

Authorities looking for foreign financial support as many local hospitals cannot treat patients

North Koreans are now taking charge of their own health as the North Korean government has long been unable to address the nations health issues. Medical facilities have become so dilapidated that many are unable to treat patients.

The local hospital in Ryanggang Province was built in the 1960s, along with many other hospitals, said a source in the area on May 3. There are no medical devices for treating patients like sterilizers, and the facilities are a mess. They are not places where patients can expect treatment. The hospitals have unimaginably dirty interiors. There are many patients who are infected with other diseases during their time at the hospital.

The source added that local bureaucrats are making efforts to improve the poor condition of these medical facilities, but are coming up against difficulties finding Chinese businessmen or other investors to support the improvements.

The 2018 Korea Institute for National Unifications White Paper on North Korean Human Rights noted that North Koreans do not trust medical facilities or doctors [...] Many believe that they will not receive proper medical treatment at hospitals. 

The white paper also expressed concern that widespread distrust towards the medical system is causing many to buy medicines at informal pharmacies and receive treatment from personal doctors (retired doctors offering medical consultations at their homes). Theres a danger in these kinds of actions and the North Korean authorities are not managing the situation adequately, the report concluded. 
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