BEIJING — North Korea's health-care system is unable to provide sterilized needles, clean water, food and medicine, and patients are forced to undergo agonizing surgery without anesthesia, Amnesty International reported Thursday.
The human rights group, citing World Health Organization statistics, found that North Korea spent under $1 per capita on health care, the lowest in the world. The global average is $716 per capita.
The collapse of the health care system compounds the misery of a population that is chronically malnourished and suffering from digestive problems caused by eating weeds, tree bark, roots, corn husks, cobs and other "substitute" foods.
The poor diet also weakens the immune system, making people susceptible to diseases such as tuberculosis, which afflicts at least 5 percent of the population, according to the report. Meanwhile, about 45 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer stunted growth because of malnutrition.
"In view of the enormity of the food crisis in North Korea, health issues cannot be separated from the food insecurity that has gripped the country for almost two decades," the report stated. "The people of North Korea suffer significant deprivation in their enjoyment of the right to adequate health care, in large part due to failed or counterproductive government policies."
Amnesty International interviewed 40 people who had escaped North Korea about their experiences with the medical system.
"I was screaming so much from the pain, I thought I was going to die. They had tied my hands and legs to prevent me from moving," said a 56-year-old woman who had an appendectomy performed without anesthesia.
Naval exercises: Despite objections from China, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Chang Soo-man said Thursday that his nation and the U.S. will soon go ahead with naval exercises in the Yellow Sea in response to North Korea's alleged attack on a South Korean warship.