Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has denounced his own country’s health services, state media reported Tuesday, criticising officials for being “very idle and irresponsible”. Impoverished and isolated North Korea, which is subject to multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its pursuit of nuclear weapons, suffers from chronic food shortages and inadequate health services according to international aid agencies.
Hospitals lack medicines, equipment, and trained staff. While Pyongyang regularly proclaims its desire to provide its people with a better life, Kim roundly condemned its health system on a visit to a medical devices factory.
Some sectors “have made remarkable leaps forward in recent years” Kim said according to the official Korean Central News Agency, “but the public health sector has never done so and become more and more passive”.
“There is no unit keeping its environment well in the public health sector, to say nothing of equipment modernisation,” he added at the Myohyangsan Medical Appliances Factory.
Such “field guidance” visits by the leader are the mainstay of the North’s state media output, and a key part of the authorities’ domestic messaging, sometimes lauding the quality of projects and sometimes criticising officials.
The ruling Workers’ Party had stressed the need to improve health services, but “officials are very idle and irresponsible in doing so”, Kim said according to KCNA.
In the Korean-language version, he berated them for “hibernating for a long time”, adding: “Animals only hibernate once a year but the health sector has been holed up and hibernating for years and shouting empty slogans.”
Since his summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, Kim has stressed a focus on economic development, visiting industrial sites and factories across the nation.
In this year’s “needs and priorities” assessment of North Korea, the UN Development Programme described its healthcare services as “inadequate”, with a “lack of essential medical equipment, pharmaceutical remedies, appropriate referral systems, therapeutic equipment and assistive devices, as well as limited professional capacity”.
“Furthermore, health infrastructure is poor with many [facilities] having inconsistent water, electricity and heating,” it added.
North Korea has called for an end to sanctions against it, while the US has urged the international community to maintain a tough approach until its complete denuclearisation.
Following several ballistic missile launches and by far the North’s most powerful nuclear test last year, Kim declared the development of its atomic capabilities complete and said economic development was the new priority.