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Covid-stricken North Korea gripped by mysterious new gut disease ‘epidemic’

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North Korea is in the throes of a mysterious new intestinal “epidemic,” the country said today, an unusual announcement from the secretive country already battling a COVID-19 outbreak and severe economic turmoil.

It is unclear how many people are infected with what the official Korean central news agency said was “an acute intestinal epidemic” in the southwestern city of Haeju.

The agency did not name the disease, but enteric refers to intestinal diseases, such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera, which are caused by germs in contaminated food or water or contact with the feces of infected people.

Such diseases are routine in North Korea, where there is a shortage of water treatment plants and the public health system has been largely broken for decades.

Some observers said the purpose of the announcement was not so much to report the infections itself, but to mention that leader Kim Jong Un was donating drugs from his personal stash — an apparent attempt to polish his image at a time of extreme hardship.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim was pouring medicine from what it called his family’s reserves, with a photo showing the dictator in a white lab coat next to his wife rummaging through boxes of medicine.

North Korea is in the throes of a mysterious new gut epidemic, the country said today. The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim was pouring medicine from what it called his family’s reserves, with photos showing the dictator in a white lab coat next to his wife rummaging through boxes of medicine.

The country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, had the front page photo of Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, looking at saline solutions and drugs the paper said they had donated.

In a country where power is concentrated, it is in the hands of a small ruling elite and hospitals often lack even basic necessities. ordinary citizens.

Observers also said the donated drug may have just come from state storage facilities but was distributed in Kim’s name.

“The outbreak of measles or typhoid is not uncommon in North Korea. I think it’s true that there is an infectious disease outbreak there, but North Korea is using it as an opportunity to emphasize that Kim takes care of its people,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website that focuses on on health problems in North Korea. “So it’s more of a political message than a medical one.”

Last month, North Korea reported a rising number of patients with fevers. At the time, South Korea’s spy agency said “a significant number” of the cases included measles, typhoid and whooping cough.

KCNA said on Thursday that more than 4.5 million of the country’s 26 million people have fallen ill from unknown fevers and 73 have died.

The country, which apparently has no coronavirus test kits, has identified only a fraction of them as confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Many foreign experts question the North’s death toll, saying it is likely underreported to protect Kim from political harm.

Members of the North Korean military deliver medicine to residents at a pharmacy amid growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on May 18, 2022

Members of the North Korean military deliver medicine to residents at a pharmacy amid growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on May 18, 2022

A health officer (left) measures an employee's temperature when she arrives at the workplace of the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory in Pyongyang on June 16, 2022

A health officer (left) measures an employee’s temperature when she arrives at the workplace of the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory in Pyongyang on June 16, 2022

North Korea recently claimed to have made progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated population, although a top World Health Organization official this month said the agency believes the outbreak is getting worse.

At a ruling party conference last week, Kim claimed that the pandemic situation has passed the “serious crisis” stage.

But the country still maintains heightened restrictions. Some outside experts have said the measures will put even further strain on the country’s already troubled economy, which has been hit by prolonged pandemic-related border closures and UN sanctions.

In late Thursday, the South Korean Unification Ministry renewed its offer of assistance with health issues. After the North first announced the COVID-19 outbreak, South Korea and the United States offered to ship vaccines and other medical supplies, but the North has not responded.

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