UN health chief praises N.Korean health system as 'envy'

3rd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

UN health agency chief Margaret Chan said on Friday after a visit to North Korea that the country's health system would be the envy for most developing countries although it faced "challenges".

"Based on what I have seen, I can tell you they have something that most other developing countries would envy," she told journalists, despite reports of renewed famine in parts of the country.

"To give you a couple of examples, DPRK has no lack of doctors and nurses, as we see in other developing countries, most of their doctors and nurse have migrated," the director general of the World Health Organisation said.

She also highlighted its "very elaborate health infrastructure" extending to a district network of household doctors, she added.

Chan visited the closed communist nation Monday through Wednesday at the regime's invitation.

She met senior ministers and visited health facilities in the capital Pyongyang, as well as a rural hospital about an hour's drive away.

Her visit to Pyongyang came amid reports of a severe food crisis in North Korea.

Good Friends, a Seoul-based welfare group with contacts in the North, said in February that 2,000 people had starved to death there this winter.

A growing number of North Koreans have fled their homeland, which has relied on outside aid to help feed its people since a famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands.

The WHO chief said senior North Korean officials acknowledged that the country's population had suffered from the severe floods and droughts that destroyed crops but she insisted it was recovering.

"I can see perhaps that malnutrition is an area where the government has to pay attention, especially in pregnant women and young children," Chan said in a telephone news conference about her visit.

But she praised the extent of child vaccination in the country, citing coverage of about 90 percent, as well as the way it tackled tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases.

"Despite these successes, there are challenges," she acknowledged, pointing to the need to upgrade infrastructure and "lifestyle diseases" such as cancer, heart disease, and strokes.

Chan later accepted that what she saw in Pyongyang "might not be representative of the rest of the country."

© 2010 AFP

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