The Hankyoreh (07.13.2013)
Dr. Kwonjune Justin Seung, an international expert in multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB), reviewed TB incidence and prevalence in North and South Korea and described critically needed TB strategies during a seminar hosted by the Eugene Bell Foundation. Seung reported that South Korea had the highest TB incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that South Korea had 100 new TB cases per 100,000 people, a prevalence rate of 149 per 100,000 people, and a mortality rate of 4.9 per 100,000 in 2007. WHO figures indicated that South Korea’s TB prevalence increased by approximately 5,000 cases from 2007 to 2011. North Korea had much worse TB incidence and mortality rates than South Korea, with 2.5 times higher incidence and 1.4 times higher prevalence, according to WHO figures for 2011.
The growing prevalence of MDR TB in both countries was Seung’s biggest concern. In comparison with a six-month treatment regimen for TB, MDR TB requires a two-year course of expensive treatment with only a 50- to 60-percent chance for full recovery. MDR TB patients also face the danger of their infection developing into “super-TB,” which resists all treatments. Seung stated that “bad” MDR TB treatment—such as providing standard TB medications—was more dangerous than no treatment at all because patients could spread MDR TB through respiratory infections. Without implementation of appropriate treatment, North Korea could become a “high-risk” TB country like Russia, China, and India.
South Korea has helped North Korea fight MDR TB since 2008, but North Korea limited assistance to eight treatment centers in North and South Pyongyan Provinces that could treat only 500 patients annually. Seung urged the creation of a general TB center in a location such as Kaesong, North Korea, for diagnosis, testing, surgery, and treatment.