Lacking vaccines, North Korea fights COVID with antibiotics and home remedies

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The North Korean flag flies at the North Korean consular office in Dandong, Liaoning province, China April 20, 2021. Picture taken April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

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SEOUL (Reuters) – Standing in bright red hazmat suits, five North Korean health workers walk towards an ambulance to fight an outbreak of COVID-19 which – in the alleged absence of vaccines – the country is using antibiotics and home remedies to treat .

The isolated state is one of only two countries yet to launch a vaccination campaign and until last week had insisted it was COVID-free.

Now he is mobilizing forces including the military and a public information campaign to fight what authorities have acknowledged as an “explosive” outbreak.

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In a state television interview on Monday, Vice Minister of Public Health Kim Hyong Hun said the country had moved from a quarantine to a treatment system to handle the hundreds of thousands of suspected cases of “fever “reported daily.

The broadcaster showed footage of the hazmat team and masked workers opening windows, cleaning offices and machinery and spraying disinfectant.

To treat COVID and its symptoms, state media has 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.

While previously downplaying vaccines as “no panacea”, the media also recommended gargling salt water or drinking lonicera japonica tea or willow leaf tea three times a day.

“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 didn’t turn out to be a big deal,” she said in a TV interview.

‘LACK OF UNDERSTANDING’

The country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, said on Sunday – when state news agency KCNA reported 392,920 more fever cases and eight more deaths – that drug supplies were not reaching people and ordered the army medical corps to help stabilize supplies in Pyongyang, where the outbreak appears to be centered.

KCNA said the cumulative number of people with fever stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths. He did not specify how many of the suspected infections had tested positive for COVID.

Authorities say a large proportion of deaths are due to people being “negligent in taking medication due to lack of knowledge and understanding” of the Omicron variant and the correct method of treating it.

The World Health Organization has shipped health kits and other supplies to North Korea, but did not say what drugs they contain. Neighboring China and South Korea have offered to send help if Pyongyang requests it.

Without claiming that antibiotics and home remedies will eliminate COVID, North Korea has a long history of developing scientifically unproven treatments, including an injection of ginseng grown in rare earth elements that it says could cure everything, from AIDS to impotence.

Some have roots in traditional medicines, while others were developed to compensate for a lack of modern medicines or as “made in North Korea” exports.

Despite a high number of trained doctors and experience in mobilizing for health emergencies, North Korea’s medical system is sorely under-resourced, experts say.

In a March report, an independent UN human rights investigator said it suffered from “underinvestment in infrastructure, medical personnel, equipment and medicines, irregular power supply and inadequate water and sanitation facilities”.

Kim Myeong-Hee, 40, who moved from the North to South Korea in 2003, said such shortcomings have led many North Koreans to rely on home remedies.

“Even though we go to the hospital, there is actually no medicine. There was also no electricity, so the medical equipment could not be used,” she said. declared.

When she contracted acute hepatitis, she said she was told to take minari – a water parsley made famous by the 2020 film of the same name – every day, and eat earthworms when she was suffering from another unknown disease.

Home remedies sometimes failed to prevent deaths during outbreaks in the 1990s, Kim added.

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