UN agency chief urges strengthening of health care in DPR Korea

30 April 2010

The quality and reach of health care in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) needs to improve and the country’s Government should allocate more of its domestic budget for health programmes, a senior United Nations official said today after wrapping up a visit to the Asian country.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), said that despite achievements on several public health fronts, authorities in the DPRK can do more.

“The health system requires further strengthening to sustain universal coverage and to improve the quality of services,” she said in Geneva after returning from a three-day visit to the DPRK earlier this week.

“More investments are required to upgrade infrastructure and equipment, to ensure adequate supplies of medicines and other commodities, and to address the correct skill mix of the health workforce.”

Dr. Chan added that more attention must be paid to nutrition and lifestyle-related diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, along with more efforts in tobacco control.

During her visit, she acknowledged the Government’s public health achievements, including childhood immunization coverage averaging 90 per cent, and the effective implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions.

She also noted “the prominent position of primary health care in the health system and… the large number of household doctors offering services at facilities and through reaching out to families.”

Dr. Chan and senior WHO officials visited Pyongyang this week at the invitation of the DPRK’s Government.

The Director-General acknowledged that “all countries want to put their best face when they welcome a guest” but said she had been invited to see the challenges that DPRK faced and hear her views about potential support from WHO and other UN agencies.

WHO is working with the Government to improve maternal and child health, a project Ms. Chan called “a bridge for dialogue and trust-building.”

The Government is also working with the international health community, including the Global Fund and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

Dr. Chan emphasized the need for transparency, quality of data and accountability to ensure continued funding from these and other international sources.

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