Tuberculosis spreading through North Korea

North Korea is struggling to control the spread of a strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to conventional treatment.

Aid workers said that the impoverished country, which already has one of the highest rates of TB outside of sub-Saharan Africa, is unable to cope with the recent outbreak, according to

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is not responsive to the two most powerful anti-TB drugs commonly used, and conditions in North Korea seem ideally prepared for the illness to spread. Much of the country’s climate is cold, and most citizens work in cramped environments and lack the proper nutrition required for a healthy immune system.

"North Koreans have told me that tuberculosis is their number one, number two and number three primary public health concern," Stephen Linton said, reports. Linton is the chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation in Seoul and recently returned from North Korea, a country he has visited nearly 70 times.

The Eugene Bell Foundation is currently treating approximately 600 patients in North Korea at a cost of $2,000 per case annually. The treatment involves many years of taking second-line drugs that have drastic side effects.

“I think their average life expectancy would be no more than five years,” Linton said, according to “To make matters worse, there's a very good chance that they would pass this resistant form of TB on to their families, to their co-workers, whoever comes in contact with them. So it becomes not only a personal tragedy but a serious social problem at the same time."