In a closed country like North Korea, the spread of a disease like the coronavirus can have a hugely devestating impact. North Korean defector Timothy Cho shares his expertise and asks for prayer.
4 March 2020
While the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea is causing major problems, North Korea continues to deny that there are any cases in their state.
Medical care in North Korea is poor; there are very few trained doctors. If you do manage to see a doctor, you’ll most likely have to pay for their services, even though officially health care is free. Doctors frequently go unpaid, or receive a very low salary.
If someone does fall ill, a family member will usually go to the jangmadang (the black market) and try to find someone who sells medicines - which are often without labels, and the ingredients unknown. The family member describe the symptoms and then they receive ‘medical advice’ from the seller, along with the medicines they say will help. But the seller isn’t a medical professional and doesn’t have every kind of medicine available.
As well as Bibles, clothing and food, Open Doors secret workers also use their networks in China to get medicines to North Korean believers who have managed to escape the country. After receiving some of these medicines, one secret North Korean believer said, "Even though the cold winter has come, the hearts of our believers are full of hot and passionate waves. As the light of the sun shines through the cracks and adds warmth, in the same way we are touched by your love and warmth that flows through our hearts. Our hearts are overwhelmed and we cannot stop our tears from flowing.
"We thank you for your sacrifice, warmth and consideration to take care of us. We feel your warm heart and mind every minute and second. We do our best to serve our Lord and live faithful life."
18 February 2020
Our brothers and sisters in North Korea are facing a new kind of danger in the form of the coronavirus – please pray for their protection and for the provision of the right medical treatment.
North Korean defector Timothy Cho knows just how dangerous viral diseases are to those living in poverty in the country. He says, “If there really are people infected with the coronavirus in North Korea, this will have a serious impact. The country has almost no medical facilities or medications. This was one of the reasons why cholera and SARS caused the deaths of many vulnerable children on the streets of North Korea. I was one of those children infected with cholera, and was just waiting for death, without food and medicine.”
The authorities in North Korea have not confirmed any cases of infection, but North Pyongyang Province reported that, on 7 February, five people died after suffering from high fevers at hospitals in Sinuiju, close to the border with China. Pyongyang denied that their deaths were from the coronavirus. However, North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health hints that those who are suspected to be infected, such as those with a fever or cough, are being quarantined and treated.
Timothy Cho says, “A former North Korean diplomat has said, ‘Even the elites have to ration expired paracetamol or ibuprofen when contagious diseases break out.’ If this is the case for even the elites, it explains why North Korea is unable to provide any medical treatment for ordinary people infected with any type of contagious disease.”
Almost as serious as the danger of catching the coronavirus are the problems caused by North Korea’s attempts to prevent the disease from coming into the country. Authorities in Pyongyang has decided to completely shut down the border with China and increase the numbers of KPA (the Korean People’s Army) at the border.
This causes increased difficulty and has caused shortages in the raw materials required to operate the factories. According to escapees’ family members in North Korea, in just two weeks, food and fuel prices have skyrocketed.
“If the coronavirus situation goes on, it could lead to long-term problems – even a second economic crisis, leading to starvation for millions,” Timothy says. The famine in North Korea between 1994 and 1998 led to as many as 3.5 million people dying from starvation.
“Given North Korea’s history of failing to report any outbreaks of contagious diseases, I humbly ask for your prayers for the secret believers in North Korea who are suffering in this difficult situation. Pray also for the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children that live on the streets and are more susceptible to infection, with no one to care for them… Please pray that God will continue to care for His people. And pray for God’s mercy on the North Korean regime, that their hearts might open to see the truth in Jesus and His love.”
Open Doors secret workers are keeping 60,000 North Korean believers alive with vital food and aid through its Chinese networks, as well as providing Bibles, broadcasting Christian radio programmes and running safe houses at the Chinese border for those who are able to escape.
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