North Korea is ramping up production of medicines and medical supplies, including sterilizers and thermometers, and promoting the use of traditional Korean medicines believed to reduce fever and pain as it battles an unprecedented coronavirus outbreak.
Traditional medicines were “effective in preventing and curing the malevolent disease”, state news agency KCNA said, although no medical evidence exists for the claims.
A surge of Covid that North Korea first confirmed last week has stoked concerns about the country’s lack of medical resources and vaccines, with the UN human rights agency warning “devastating” consequences for its 25 million inhabitants.
At least 262,270 more people reported symptoms of fever and another person had died as of Wednesday night, KCNA said, citing data from the state’s headquarters for emergency epidemic prevention. He did not say how many people had tested positive for the virus.
North Korea, which has imposed a nationwide lockdown, has so far reported 1,978,230 people with symptoms of fever and 63 deaths, and has implemented strict anti-virus measures.
Kee Park, a global health specialist at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the number of new cases should start to slow thanks to the strengthening of preventive measures such as travel restrictions and keeping workers separated into groups according to their jobs.
But, Park said, North Korea will struggle to provide treatment for the already large number of people with Covid-19, adding that deaths could reach tens of thousands given the size of its caseload.
Factories were churning out more syringes, drugs, thermometers and other medical supplies “in a meteoric fashion” in the capital, Pyongyang, and neighboring areas, KCNA said, while more isolation wards were set up and that disinfection work was intensifying.
“Thousands of tons of salt were rushed to Pyongyang city to produce an antiseptic solution,” KCNA said.
The reports came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un criticized inefficient drug distribution and criticized officials for their “immature” responses to the outbreak.
In the absence of a nationwide vaccination campaign and Covid treatments, state media encouraged patients to use painkillers and antibiotics, as well as unverified home remedies, like gargling salt water, or drink lonicera japonica tea or willow leaf tea.
“Traditional treatments are the best!” one woman told public broadcasters that her husband described having their children gargle with salt water every morning and every night.
An elderly resident of Pyongyang said she was helped by ginger tea and ventilation in her room.
“I was scared of Covid at first, but after following doctors’ advice and getting the right treatments, it turned out to be no big deal,” she said in a TV interview. .
State media has also encouraged patients to use painkillers and fever reducers such as ibuprofen, amoxicillin and other antibiotics – which do not fight viruses but are sometimes prescribed for secondary bacterial infections.
Although it hasn’t claimed that antibiotics and home remedies will eliminate Covid, North Korea has a long history of developing scientifically unproven treatments, including an injection made from ginseng grown in rare earth elements. which she believes could cure everything from AIDS to impotence.
Some have their roots in traditional medicines, while others were developed to overcome a lack of modern medicines or as export products.
The North has so far ignored offers from South Korea and the United States to provide medical assistance, as have requests from the World Health Organization (WHO) for more data on the outbreak. Its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this week that the WHO was “deeply concerned about the risk of spread” in North Korea, noting that the country had a worrying number of people with underlying conditions that make them worse. make them more likely to contract severe Covid-19. 19 symptoms.
In China, Shanghai distributed millions of boxes of traditional Chinese medicine, such as herbal products and flu capsules, to treat Covid as the city battled its biggest virus outbreak.
Three planes from North Korea’s Air Koryo arrived in China and returned to Pyongyang on Monday with medical supplies, a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.