SUWON, November 15 (Korea Bizwire) – Now going on three days since a wounded North Korean soldier was brought to Ajou University Hospital, doctors have found the presence of parasitic worms in his abdomen, providing a glimpse into the poor conditions facing North Koreans.
On November 15, professor Lee Kook-jong said while explaining the two surgeries administered to the North Korean, “Within his ruptured small intestine, we discovered dozens of adult parasitic worms, some as long as 27cm long, making it likely that they are roundworms.”
Lee added, “The damage caused by the parasites is severe. The creatures did not enter the soldier’s body through his gunshot wounds and were present before the injuries.”
Sometimes included in a category called “Neglected Tropical Diseases”, parasitic infections like roundworms are more common throughout Asia, Africa and the American nations (North and South), as well as poor and underdeveloped states.
South Korea has faced its own share of problems with parasitic infections, leading to the formation of the Korea Association for Parasite Eradication in 1964. The ensuing eradication efforts were so effective that the number of infected dropped from 84.3 percent in 1971 to 4.3 percent by 2004.
While South Korea has become a model example for effectively implementing a health initiative on a national scale, North Korea, as evidenced by the North Korean defector’s condition, has made little progress.
“The parasitic worms [in the North Korean] are not found in South Koreans,” Lee said. “In our country, no matter how tough things may get for some, sufficient preventative measures are in place so that it’s rare that this type of infection occurs.”
Quoting professor Hong Seong-tae, a parasitic infections specialist at Seoul National University, Lee emphasized the severity of the problems facing North Koreans, “Roundworms are extremely common in North Korea. With Yanbian University in 2005, we conducted a joint inspection of the residents of Hoeryong city in North Hamgyŏng Province and found that half had roundworm infections.”
In addition, Lee described the probable cause of infection, saying, “Using human feces as fertilizer and eating the crops raised from that can cause infection. Besides the gunshot wounds, if the roundworms can pierce through the more vulnerable areas of the intestinal wall and cause peritonitis, it could result in death.”
The doctors who operated on the soldier also found yet to be digested corn in his stomach, evidence that North Korea’s military complex is struggling to properly feed its troops.
Measuring 1.7 m in height and weighing 60 kg, the soldier is smaller than the average male 12th grader. According to a Ministry of Education report published earlier this year, the average height and weight of a male high school senior is 1.73 m and 70 kg.
Though the soldier was successfully operated on, he remains in critical condition.
The man was rescued on November 13, when South Korean troops discovered a North Korean shoulder with gunshot wounds lying on the ground about 50 meters south of the military demarcation line that cuts through the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom.