N. Korea shows off hospital care inspired by Great Leaders
North Korea Saturday organised an unusual media tour of a gleaming modern hospital, apparently seeking to highlight its leaders’ love for the people during a major ruling party gathering.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital owes everything to the party and to the Kim dynasty which has ruled the country since its creation, according to officials who escorted foreign reporters around the showpiece institution.
Founding president Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il visited the hospital many times — a fact attested to by numerous red plaques and countless portraits — and gave instructions on ways to improve treatment, they said.
“Field guidance” trips by the two former leaders, covering many aspects of work and leisure, were a feature of North Korean life for decades. Kim Jong-Un, the third-generation ruler, has continued the tradition.
The first two Kims instructed staff to study ways of relieving the pain of childbirth through analgesics, officials said.
They also urged doctors and nurses to check carefully to ensure the wrong medicines were not prescribed.
The hospital, opened in 1980 and with 1,900 beds, offers all kinds of health services including cancer treatment for women in addition to maternity care.
Staffers allowed visiting journalists, wearing white coats and shoe covers, to interview new mother Tong Youn-Mi via a phone and video link to prevent infection.
Tong lovingly cradled her two-day-old son, wrapped in a pink blanket. She wants him to grow up to be a soldier, according to hospital staff who interpreted.
Her fears of a painful birth proved unfounded “due to the medicine provided out of the love of Generalissimo Kim Jong-Un”, an interpreter said.
Staff showed off the intensive care unit for premature babies and others in need of special attention, including a unit dedicated to triplets and quadruplets.
Because the current ruler sees multiple births as a symbol of the country’s prosperous future, their parents get commemorative gifts from the party.
The hospital is staffed by 1,700 doctors, researchers, nurses and midwives. Treatment is said to be open to all women and to be free of charge.
A new wing opened in 2012 and was spotless and gleaming on Saturday — like much of central Pyongyang at present as the Workers’ Party Congress continues.
– Unlikely a typical example –
The hospital is unlikely to be a typical example of health care in North Korea.
Residence in the capital is restricted to the social class seen as most trustworthy. In turn, they enjoy privileges and favourable treatment unseen elsewhere in the country.
A 2010 report by Amnesty international said the country’s overall healthcare system was unable to provide sterilised needles, clean water, food and medicine, and patients were forced to undergo agonising surgery without anaesthesia.
It said that what it called the collapse of the healthcare system compounded the misery of a population that was chronically malnourished.
The World Health Organization later said the Amnesty findings were outdated and failed to reflect improvements.
Malnutrition however, remains a significant health problem, according to a United Nations report published last month.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital staff took pride, however, in their own institution.
“Korean people do not like to boast but I hope you can show the hospital is doing a good job,” its external affairs chief Mun Chang-Hun told AFP.
“I hope you can show the good job done by the party and the Great Leaders.”