North Korea touts maternity hospital 'born out of leaders' love'

A nurse attending to babies at Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. The showpiece facility was shown to journalists on a rare media tour where officials escorted the press around.
A nurse attending to babies at Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. The showpiece facility was shown to journalists on a rare media tour where officials escorted the press around.PHOTO: REUTERS

PYONGYANG • North Korea organised an unusual media tour of a gleaming modern hospital over the weekend, apparently seeking to highlight its leaders' love for the people during a major ruling party gathering.

The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital owes everything to the party and to the Kim dynasty which has ruled the country since its creation, according to officials who escorted foreign reporters around the showpiece institution.

Founding president Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il visited the hospital many times - a fact attested to by numerous red plaques and countless portraits - and gave instructions on ways to improve treatment, they said.

"Field guidance" trips by the two former leaders, covering many aspects of work and leisure, were a feature of North Korean life for decades. Kim Jong Un, the third-generation ruler, has continued the tradition.

The first two Kims instructed staff to study ways of relieving the pain of childbirth through analgesics, officials said.

They also urged doctors and nurses to check carefully to ensure the wrong medicines were not prescribed.

The hospital, opened in 1980 and with 1,900 beds, offers all kinds of health services including cancer treatment for women in addition to maternity care.

Staffers on Saturday allowed visiting journalists, wearing white coats and shoe covers, to interview new mother Tong Youn Mi via a phone and video link to prevent infection.

Ms Tong lovingly cradled her two-day-old son, wrapped in a pink blanket. She wants him to grow up to be a soldier, according to hospital staff who interpreted.

Her fears of a painful birth proved unfounded "due to the medicine provided out of the love of Generalissimo Kim Jong Un", an interpreter said.

Staff showed the intensive care unit for premature babies and others in need of special attention, including a unit dedicated to triplets and quadruplets.

Because the current ruler sees multiple births as a symbol of the country's prosperous future, their parents get commemorative gifts from the party.

The hospital is staffed by 1,700 doctors, researchers, nurses and midwives. Treatment is said to be free of charge and open to all women.

A new wing opened in 2012 and was spotless and gleaming on Saturday - like much of central Pyongyang at present as the Workers' Party Congress continues.

The hospital is unlikely to be a typical example of health care in North Korea. Residence in the capital is restricted to the social class seen as most trustworthy. In turn, they enjoy privileges and favourable treatment unseen elsewhere in the country.

Sanctions that have pinched North Korea's health care system should be eased, a group of Nobel laureates said on Saturday, after a rare visit to the isolated state that coincided with its ruling party congress.

Embargoes on the flow of goods into the isolated country have squeezed the quality of medical care and research, they said, following visits to hospitals and labs in Pyongyang.

"You cannot turn penicillin into a nuclear bomb," Professor Aaron Ciechanover, who won the top prize for chemistry, told a media conference in Beijing a day after returning from the visit.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'North Korea touts maternity hospital 'born out of leaders' love''. Print Edition | Subscribe