Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis a major problem

Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis has emerged as a major public health problem for North Korea, a private foundation said Thursday, calling for public donation to help combat the highly contagious disease.

Stephen W. Linton, chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation, said his foundation currently treats some 600 multidrug-resistant patients in six medical centers in the North, but hundreds of people are still on the waiting list.

Linton, who just returned from a two-week trip to the North after delivering medications to the North Korean patients, told reporters in Seoul that the six centers are making good progress and they could be ready to significantly expand their patient numbers.

Still, he said some people on the waiting list have died because they did not receive necessary treatment.

“We cannot treat all multidrug-resistant patients in the North,” Linton said in a news conference. “It will be a question whether we have the budget to buy the medicine they need.”

The medicine for multidrug-resistant patients costs nearly 100 times as much as regular tuberculosis medical supplies, said Linton, adding each patient costs $ 1,600 a year.

The patients include medical professionals, Linton said, in a sign of the serious problem facing the impoverished country.

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