North Korea needs outside help to cut high infant mortality rate: report

October 2, 2015

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea needs an outside supply of drugs and medical equipment to cope with its high infant mortality rate, a report by the research arm of South Korea’s parliament said Friday.

According to the National Assembly Research Service (NARS) report, based on data provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, North Korea ranked 74th among 223 countries checked in 2014 in terms of infant mortality, roughly on par with Mongolia.

Pyongyang’s infant mortality rate stood at 23.68 newborns out of 1,000 born dying before they reach the age of 1. This is 5.3 times the average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and 6.1 times higher than South Korea.

The infant mortality rate for the OECD stands at 4.51 deaths per 1,000 newborns, while the figure for South Korea is 3.86 deaths.

“The high number reflects shortages in critical drugs and medical equipment,” NARS said. “Because the country cannot deal with these problems by itself, support needs to be provided.”

The infant mortality rate is often used as a barometer to check the medical conditions of a country.

“Support can be centered on maternity and child care areas,” it said, adding that even the unification ministry pointed out that the North’s medical services were seriously outdated.

Providing medical and health care to Pyongyang is possible because it would not violate international sanctions imposed on the country following its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

NARS said that providing support for the North can reduce the overall health care-related gap between the two countries, and facilitate eventual unification.

“Basic drugs needed for maternity and childcare should be given precedence as well as a systematic approach to lowering infant mortality,” the research institute said.