North Korean Soldier-Turned-Defector’s Nasty Health Problems Speak Volumes About Life In North Korea


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The North Korean soldier who ran into South Korea under fire at the border was carrying inside of him a small Pandora’s Box of illnesses and ailments.

24-year-old Oh Chong Song was shot five times by his former comrades when he made a desperate dash for freedom in the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The soldier was rescued and airlifted to a hospital in South Korea for emergency medical treatment. Not only did the medical staff treat Oh for gunshot wounds, but they were also forced to address the collection of other serious medical issues he brought with him.

Oh had enormous parasites, some of which were 11 inches long, in his gut. He also had Hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and a chronic liver infection. Doctors reportedly said Oh was at risk of developing liver cancer. South Korean intelligence reports that the young soldier is the son of a high-ranking military officer. If this is the state of a member of North Korea’s elite, imagine the health conditions of regular North Korean citizens.

The North Korean soldiers in the JSA are believed to be handpicked for their loyalty and are said to be treated much better than the standard enlisted man.

Medical personnel found raw corn kernels inside the North Korean soldier, leading some to conclude that the worms resulted from the consumption of uncooked vegetables grown using human excrement as fertilizer, although human feces can also be found in the water, according to defectors.

In rural villages, North Koreans pump water from underground and drink it. “There was no sewage facility, and feces from the toilets went directly underground, meaning the water is getting mixed with those feces,” one North Korean woman told The Korea Times. The local authorities said the water purified itself underground.

Students reportedly use dry human waste as fertilizer, often with their bare hands. Frequent water shortages prevent the students from washing their hands, which makes them much more susceptible to parasites. They are given medicine, but they take it with their unwashed hands.

One defector said that when he was living in North Korea in the early 1990s, many households were given Santonin to treat parasites. The drug’s effectiveness is debatable, and it can cause liver problems if taken too often. “We had to take it because we had nothing else to take,” the North Korean man revealed, adding, “It was gross to see intestinal worms actually coming out of people’s mouths after we took the syrup.”

In other parts of the country, North Korean citizens deal with these issues, as well as other alarming problems. For instance, in Kilju County, home to North Korea’s infamous Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, local residents suffer from a so-called “ghost disease” that some believe its radiation poisoning.

“We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation,” a defector explained, adding that the nuclear tests appear to be causing leukemia, birth defects, and other illnesses. The woman said that the children born with deformities are killed.

The latest high-profile defection has drawn attention to the tragic health conditions in North Korea, leading to calls in South Korea for health assistance to the North.

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