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Malnutrition In DPR Korea Takes Toll On Children

18-month-old  Hong Sin-Hyang is receiving treatment for malnutrition at the Janpgpung Hospital in DPRK. Copyright: WFP/Marcus Prior

Child malnutrition is on the rise in the Democratic Popular Republic of Korea in the wake of serious food shortages. Cereal rations in much of the country have fallen to a quarter of their normal levels. In paediatric wards around the country, food provided by WFP is helping malnourished children rebuild their strength.

PYONGYANG--Hong Sin-Hyang lies motionless on her back, her grandmother sprawled alongside her, providing body warmth and comfort. Sin-Hyang is 18 months old, but her eyes stare emptily into the middle distance, her tiny body emaciated by the ravages of malnutrition.

She’d been in the paediatric ward of Janpgpung Hospital for a week when we met her, and in fact was starting out on the road to recovery. In coming weeks, helped by specialised nutritious blended foods provided by the WFP, she should regain strength and make a full recovery.

Common symptoms

According to doctors in DPR Korea, Sin-Hyang is a case study in the problems currently affecting many children. As food shortages begin to bit for real, people are relying increasingly heavily on wild vegetables and other foods collected from the hillsides. These are a traditional part of the Korean diet, but not for young children, whose digestive systems are unable to process these unusual products properly, leading to severe diarrhoea and other subsequent complications.

Road to recovery

Sun-Hyang’s doctor explained that the majority of admissions in recent weeks were from communities who depend on the Public Distribution System, which in May was able to provide only about one third of the full cereal rations – in June that dropped to about a quarter.

The hospital is using WFP’s rice-milk blend, where possible adding meat, fish and other high value nutritious foods, to help children on the road to recovery.