Building healthier futures in DPR Korea

Reducing malnutrition in remote areas

Simon Nazer
Kim Su Hyang, 16 months old, was severely malnourished

20 June 2018

Kim Su Hyang, 16 months old, was admitted to Chongdan County Hospital in the south of DPR Korea in a serious condition. “She was very thin, and very weak,” said her mother Ri Yu Jong. “She also had a high fever and cough. I was really worried.”

Back in her village, Kim Su Hyang was referred to the hospital by a household doctor who identified her as being severely malnourished, as well as having a respiratory infection. In DPR Korea around one in five children are affected by stunting - an indication of chronic or recurrent malnutrition – but rates can be much higher in remote rural areas.

Fortunately for young Kim Su Hyang, Chongdan County Hospital, like 46 other hospitals in the country, received training and supplies from UNICEF to help quickly identify and treat malnourished children.

“The training and supplies we received from UNICEF have helped to increase our knowledge about how to treat children,” said Dr Ri Hak Chol, head of the paediatric unit treating children like Kim Su Hyang. “Before the training, we didn’t know the best way to treat these cases, and about how to spot the signs of malnutrition. Since the training, we all know how to better treat children and ensure they get the right support.”

Dr Ri in DPR Korea

Once Kim Su Hyang was admitted to hospital, doctors quickly acted. “She was given therapeutic milk at first and then plumpynut,” explained her mother. Plumpynut is peanut-based paste used to treat malnutrition, and UNICEF provides over 10 million sachets across the country each year.

“I live out in a rural area and gave birth at home. She was always quite weak and small,” explained her mother. “She got sick from the cold weather – I thought it was just a cold at first. But the doctor has taught me about nutritional care and how important it is. I’ve also learned about how to spot any potential problems.”

Dr Ri explained that cases like this aren’t unusual: “Last year we treated around 25-30 cases of malnutrition per month,” he said.

“Diarrhoea is one of the main reasons – a child could have it for several days and that can cause severe problems,” explained Dr Ri. “Unsafe water is one of the biggest causes of diarrhoea, as well as respiratory infections during the cold season.”

It’s a big challenge and people like Dr Ri are dedicated to helping children like Kim Su Hyang have a healthy and fulfilling life. “We’re really happy about the support we’ve received and hope it continues. As we get better at identifying more cases of malnutrition we’ll need more support with supplies and trainings to make sure we can help more children.”