Report: N. Koreans enduring amputations with no anesthesia, electricity

A terrifying report by Amnesty International on conditions in North Korea describes harrowing living conditions, marked by widespread food shortages and appallingly sparse medical care.

The report indicates that patients are routinely operated on in substandard conditions, and tuberculosis is spreading rapidly due to widespread malnutrition. One young man’s account of an amputation without anesthesia is particularly difficult to read, and provides a frightening complement to reports of hospitals without electricity and a shortage of affordable medications:

Hwang, a 24-year-old man, described how his left leg had been amputated from the calf down without anaesthetic after he crushed his ankle in a fall. “Five medical assistants held my arms and legs down to keep me from moving,” he said. “I was in so much pain that I screamed and fainted from the pain. I woke up a week later in a hospital bed.”

The report goes on to say that doctors are frequently paid in cigarettes and alcohol, and that problems stemming from substandard healthcare are exacerbated by malnutrition, particularly in children, the elderly and the pregnant women:

The state’s failure to feed its people has produced a generation of stunted children, with almost half of under-fives suffering from the condition, it says…

Hunger is forcing people to risk their lives. Park, a 27-year-old man, said he became seriously ill after hunger drove him to look for food in the mountains. “I almost died eating poisonous mushrooms,” he said. “I also ate food we normally feed to pigs.”

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