In this special report, “Inter-Korean solidarity around COVID-19, under the Northeast Asian Public Health Initiative (NEAPHI) as a contribution to Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR+),” Dr. Young-jeon Shin assesses the COVID-19 situation in the DPRK and the operational status, limitations, and future challenges that NEAPHI must address.
Proposed in 2020 by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the relevance of a regional public health architecture has grown as the health situation in the DPRK has worsened. This latest APLN report advocates the adoption of NEAPHI as a mechanism to address the DPRK’s healthcare needs and to build dialogue to tackle hard security issues in the region and work towards the eventual denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The absence of regional cooperation on public health opens the door for the implementation of NEAPHI since the health sector is the least politicized and ripe for cooperation.
NEAPHI could help restart the stymied dialogue between the DPRK, ROK, and the US
In the report, Dr. Shin notes that US-DPRK dialogue under the Biden administration has not progressed. Meanwhile the North Korean population faces food shortages, malnourishment, and lack of access to medicine and healthcare as the country is grappling with the combination of COVID-19, tough economic sanctions and prolonged border closures. These triple hardships can only be resolved through multilateral cooperation between the two Koreas, China, the United States, Russia, and Japan. If such cooperation fails to materialize, disasters like the war crisis and the great famine of the 1990s are likely to reoccur. NEAPHI could be a useful platform for turning these challenges into opportunities for success.
Since the North Korean population has yet to achieve mass immunization against COVID-19, a multilateral approach through NEAPHI – which includes Chinese and Russian participation – may create a more comfortable environment where the DPRK is willing to accept vaccine support since the initiative is not US-dominated.
Other key recommendations include:
- A stable funding mechanism is needed to induce the DPRK’s participation large-scale project proposals such as COVID-19 vaccine support for all 25 million North Koreans.
- Conditions should be created for China, Russia, and Mongolia to play a more active role instead of the United States, which may inhibit DPRK cooperation.
- It is necessary to develop a strategic plan that differentiates roles among existing international organizations and NGOs (e.g., WHO, GHSA, etc.) to facilitate a regional public health initiative.
Click on the adjacent link to download the full report.
At the third webinar of the CTR+ series, “CTR+ and Public Health in the DPRK,” Dr. Young-jeon Shin delivered a presentation based on his paper. Click on the adjacent link to download his presentation. You can also watch his presentation here.
About the Author
Professor Shin Young-Jeon is a professor at Hanyang University School of Medicine. He majored in preventive medicine and health policy. He is a steering committee member of the Academy of Critical Health Policy, the Korean Society for Preventive Medicine, and the editor-in-chief of Health and Social Welfare Review.
He has been serving as an advisor to the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Health and Welfare for a long time in the health care sector of South and North Korea. He has served as the chairman of the “Korean Peninsula Health Committee” of the Korean Society for Preventive Medicine and a member of the “Science and Technology Cooperation Committee for South and North Korea” of The Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies (KOFST).
His major papers on the Korean Peninsula issue are “Plan on establishment of post-unification North Korean medical safety net (2013), A new strategy for tuberculosis control in North Korea. Epidemiology and Health (2015).