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2009/12/17 11:33 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 85 (December 17, 2009)


South Korea to Send Tamiflu to North Korea on Dec. 18

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has decided to send a stockpile of Tamiflu and other anti-viral drugs to North Korea later this week to help prevent an H1N1 flu virus epidemic there. North Korea has accepted South Korea's offer to provide anti-viral drugs for 500,000 people after acknowledging last week that it had confirmed nine cases of type-A influenza.

   "Our government will deliver the aid to Kaesong on Dec. 18" via the road that crosses the western side of the inter-Korean border, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a briefing on Dec. 15. Kaesong is a North Korean town just north of the border that houses an inter-Korean industrial complex and is connected to Pyongyang by an expressway.

   The aid comprises Tamiflu doses for 400,000 people and Relenza, another anti-viral drug, for 100,000 people, the ministry said. The medication and its delivery in refrigerated trucks will cost Seoul about 18 billion won (US$15 million). Doctors will accompany the trucks to oversee the delivery and give advice to North Koreans on how to apply the medication.

   The World Health Organization (WHO) said Dec. 14 that all the North Korean patients -- schoolchildren aged between 11 and 14 -- have recovered and no additional cases of the disease have been reported in the country. The amount of the South Korean aid will be "more than sufficient" to help safeguard the North's population of 24 million, said Suzanne Westman, a WHO coordinator who monitors the flu outbreak in North Korea.

   The WHO maintains that no flu-related deaths have occurred yet in North Korea. The death toll has exceeded 170 people in the South.

   Westman said the first of the patients, all school children aged between 11 and 14, was discovered on Nov. 25 and the last case appeared on Dec. 4. Three of the confirmed infections were in Pyongyang, with the remaining six in Sinuiju on the border with China.

   With a solid surveillance system and a sufficient number of physicians, North Korea is believed to be able to handle an outbreak of the flu, Westman added. "They certainly have the capacity to control the influenza," she said, because "they have a good surveillance system in place, have a good primary health network ... and they have a very high number of physicians."

   Until before Pyongyang's acceptance of the aid, there had been talks between the two Koreas over the terms for a North Korea-bound shipment of medical aid to fight an H1N1 flu outbreak in the North.

   North Korea expressed its intent to accept the aid several days after South Korea proposed last week to provide the North with anti-viral drugs for 500,000 people.

   Seoul is granting the flu aid as an exception to its principle that humanitarian aid to the North should be subject to external monitoring. Its previous offer to North Korea of 10,000 tons of corn in October came with such a precondition attached and the apparently disgruntled North has yet to respond.