North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he is donating some of his family’s personal supply of medicines to tackle an “acute” outbreak of a disease that experts say could be typhoid, dysentery or cholera.
A photo was released of Kim donning a white lab coat and inspecting boxes of drugs including saline solutions with his wife, Ri Sol ju, in what analysts said was propaganda to shore up support for his regime.
The medicine was intended for people diagnosed with “an acute enteric epidemic” in the southwestern Haeju city, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Such diseases routinely occur in North Korea, which lacks good water treatment facilities and whose public healthcare infrastructure has remained largely broken since the mid-1990s. It comes as North Korea is also battling cases of Covid, which it admitted for the first time in May.
Epidemic situation unclear
It is unclear how serious the new epidemic is, but outside observers say North Korea is using the opportunity to burnish Kim’s image as a leader caring about the public in order to garner greater public support to overcome pandemic-related hardships.
North Korea last month reported a rising number of patients with feverish symptoms following its admission of the coronavirus outbreak. South Korea’s spy agency said that “a considerable number” of those fever cases included those sick with diseases like measles, typhoid and pertussis.
Last month, Kim also said he had sent some of his family’s medicine supplies to Covid-19 patients, according to state media reports.
KCNA said more than 4.5 million out of the country’s 26 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 73 died. The country has identified only a fraction of those as confirmed coronavirus cases due to an apparent lack of test kits in the country. Many foreign experts question the North’s death toll, saying that’s likely underreported to protect Kim from any political damage.