North Korea Accelerates Construction of Pyongyang General Hospital Amid Public Health Concerns

SEOUL — North Korea is intensifying efforts to finalize the construction of a general hospital in Pyongyang, aiming for completion by year's end, according to state media reports on Monday. The construction of the Pyongyang General Hospital, which began with a groundbreaking ceremony in March 2020 attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has experienced delays attributed to challenges in obtaining construction materials and medical equipment. These difficulties have been exacerbated by strict COVID-19 lockdown measures and ongoing U.N. sanctions related to the country's nuclear and missile programs.

According to Yonhap News Agency, recent directives from North Korean officials, including Kim Jong-un's policy speech on January 15, emphasize the urgency of completing the hospital project. In his address, Kim highlighted the importance of advancing the public health sector and described the forthcoming hospital as a facility "suited for the new era." This initiative is part of a broader strategy to enhance healthcare services amidst criticism over the country's handling of public health.

On February 2, Premier Kim Tok-hun visited the construction site, where he urged officials and workers to expedite the establishment of a "modern medical service base," signaling the government's commitment to improving healthcare infrastructure. This development comes amid reports highlighting significant deficiencies within North Korea's healthcare system.

Research, including a human rights white paper by the Korea Institute for National Unification, points to widespread violations of health rights among North Korean citizens. Interviews with defectors reveal that individuals often resort to hiring private doctors or bribing officials to receive medical attention. Additionally, a reliance on self-medication due to the scarcity of medicines and medical knowledge has led to incidents of fatal drug addiction.

Further insights from a unification ministry report, based on interviews with 6,351 North Korean defectors between 2013 and 2022, show that a significant portion of the population lacks access to hospital care, with 39.6 percent of respondents never having received treatment at a hospital. The report also indicates that many North Koreans depend on unofficial markets for their medicinal needs, with only 21.3 percent receiving prescription medications at no cost.

These developments underscore the challenges facing North Korea's public health system and the government's efforts to address them through projects like the Pyongyang General Hospital.

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