South and North Korea agreed to operate a pilot program to exchange information on infectious diseases within this year. The two sides particularly emphasized on cooperation to diagnose and prevent tuberculosis and malaria.
Health authorities of the two Koreas announced the plans through a joint press release after meeting at the joint liaison office in Gaeseong, North Korea, on Wednesday.
South Korea’s Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kwon Deok-cheol participated in the meeting, accompanied by Kwon Joon-wook, director-general of the ministry’s healthcare policy bureau, and Kim Byung-dae, director-general of the humanitarian cooperation bureau at the Unification Ministry.
|South Korea's Vice Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol (center on the left row) speaks with his North Korean counterpart, Pak Myong-su (center on the right row), at the joint liaison office in Gaeseong, North Korea, on Wednesday. (Pool photo)|
From the North, Public Health Ministry’s State Sanitary Inspection Board Director Pak Myong-su, the public health ministry’s deputy director Park Dong-cheol, and Park Cheol-jin, secretary at the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, took part in the talks.
The two sides agreed to discuss how to exchange information and prepare measures to prevent contagious diseases from entering each other’s board and spreading.
The health authorities of the two decided to set up necessary measures such as technology cooperation and exchange information on infectious diseases in a pilot program this year.
In particular, the two sides agreed to cooperate to diagnose and prevent tuberculosis and malaria and to discuss working-level issues through document exchanges.
Besides, the two Koreas agreed to actively discuss and push comprehensive and long-term projects for disease prevention and healthcare cooperation in various ways.
The two sides said they would regularly cooperate through the joint liaison office to effectively implement measures to respond to infectious diseases and operate healthcare cooperation projects jointly.
After the talks, the South’s Vice Health Minister Kwon said the most significant achievement of the meeting was the decision to establish a joint response system for an outbreak of infectious diseases in both sides.
“It was a big decision to come up with a joint response system for contagious diseases to identify where and how the outbreak occurs if inter-Korean exchanges become active,” Kwon told reporters after the meeting. “It was also an important agreement to run a pilot program within this year.”
The two sides did discuss detailed measures of the pilot program for information exchange but did not include them in the joint press release, Kwon noted.
“We will discuss specific details through the liaison office. Various ways include technical exchange, human resource exchange, or joint visits to fields. But these details should be discussed by the two sides,” Kwon said.
The North has been reporting information on contagious diseases to the World Health Organization, but experts in statistics from both sides will exchange information through the liaison office and deal with specifics through information exchange, he added.
Kwon emphasized that there was no difference in the viewpoints of the South and the North regarding public healthcare.
“There is no difference in the North and the South. I believe the North is using modern medicine and running a public healthcare program just like the South,” Kwon said. “The meeting proceeded well without much disagreement probably because we were health officials who wanted people to be free from infectious diseases and healthy.”
Kwon said his counterpart of the North recognized him immediately, regarding the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the South.
“He told me that the South and the North should build a joint response system for contagious diseases in case of a MERS outbreak,” Kwon said.
Regarding humanitarian aid for the North such as support of medicines and human resources, the health authorities will seek cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Unification, he said.
“I understand that drugs and human exchanges are not subject to U.N. sanctions (on the North), but we will work with the foreign ministry and unification ministry to avoid misunderstandings,” he said.
It would be desirable to cooperate with the unification ministry to give aid from the public and private sector to the North, he added.