On April 19th, our source in North Korea reported that the North's health authorities are alarmed by the nationwide spread of syphilis. Earlier this year, the North Korean government created "Central Office 99” and “Office 99” for each local area. Each "Office 99" consists of three security agents and seven medical staff members. On May 20th, they will start a nationwide examination of and vaccination against the syphilis.
The source said that syphilis has increased dramatically ever since early December, 2010. Many infectees were young women in their 20’s who are freshmen and sophomores in colleges, but the alarming was the number of teenagers, particularly middle school girls 15 and 16 years old.
Another source, related to the health authorities in Pyongyang, said that sexually transmitted diseases had been rare in the North Korea until August 1989, when a student from an upper-class family who had studied abroad was diagnosed with AIDS. Since 1990, the number of reported cases grew steadily and today, it is a national epidemic.
Our sources affirmed the analysis that easy access to drugs and prostitution accounts for the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases. "Drug abuse has grown rapidly among students in recent years," one of the sources explained. Drug use is considered the main culprit as it stimulates sexual excitement and the source also added, "The increasing number of female students are getting into prostitution in an attempt to overcome financial difficulties."
Syphilis is an infection with the bacteria, Treponema pallidum, and is usually transmitted during the sexual activity. Its symptoms are skin rash, fever, headache and hair loss, but are often too mild to notice in early stages, and especially during the latent period as the symptoms are almost non-existent. It can spread very easily because those who are infected do not know it.
North Korean government with great haste established the "Office 99" in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease and identify the infected. Screening tests and vaccinations will be provided at each city, district and province’s health centers according to the source. Medicines and medical supplies have been delivered to these centers in past few days, most of which were supplies by the UN.
Meanwhile, civilians are fearful of the whole "Office 99" business. "People can get punished once their drug use or prostitution gets exposed in one way or another during the examination," the source explained.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Sunny Kang
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