Lack of Information Spreads Epidemics in North Korea

Working in reclusive North Korea presents particular challenges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, according to a senior fund official.

"We don't know much about AIDS in North Korea, and there are no official figures about AIDS in North Korea," said Christoph Benn, the fund's director of external relations. "One can suspect that there are also people who are infected with HIV in North Korea but there are no statistics, and also our UN partners don't have concrete numbers about HIV in North Korea."

Benn spoke while attending the 10th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, held in Busan, South Korea, Sept. 2-6. He noted the Global Fund is currently financing $32 million in TB and malaria programs in North Korea.

"We've already supported 1,500 tuberculosis patients in North Korea through this program," Benn said. "And it only started last year but already there has been a decline of 50 percent in malaria mobility in North Korea. So these programs are very effective, and they are saving lives and they are implemented in a very efficient way."

Ensuring efficacy means working with other international agencies such as UNICEF to develop accountability measures. "North Korea is a particular problem," said Benn. "We have to make sure that the money does not directly go to the North Korean government."