North Korea is full of surprises even where you leads expect it. My journey included the visit to a number of interesting places, the Juche tower, the Metro, the library and academic center, the School Children palace, the Arirang Mass Games, and many others. However, none of these outings were as strange as my last stop: The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital. While not up to western standards, it is a rare glimpse into the DPRK health system. But before we continue the adventure, keep in mind that: this is the biggest and most famous hospital of North Korea, therefore it’s the hospital that they show off to the foreigners. So you may wonder if this is the best, what can you find in the countryside then…
I’m pretty sure my friend Velvet is still wondering “Why on earth did they include this hospital in our tour?” and we still cat think of a good answer 🙂 but let me tell you, dear reader, this hospital should not be missed.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital is officially the jewel in the crown of North Korean national health service. The commemorating plaques at the entrance will attest its significance and of course, a glorious image for their Dear Leader & Son.
… and Kim Il-Sung inauguration signature.
The hospital is clean and neat, big, the staff is very friendly, however, as we walked through the different unites you realize the medical equipment looks like coming from the 1940’s, much of it bearing the imprint of Siemens of West Germany.
A typical bed.
The dentist room, where an actual dentist was performing a check up on a patient while the room was full of people staring and taking photos (yes, I was one of them)
An x-ray machine
And something else I could not define
But let’s go back to maternity. When a woman gives birth to a child, her husband and family can see and talk to the woman via this CCTV system. I asked our guide as in why the woman couldn’t receive visitors or gifts, she replied stating that this is due to hygiene reasons and gifting a patient is not in their culture.
This is the booth for communicating with the new mom and see the baby
Under the rule of the Kims, seems like maternity and triplets have a truly important role in society. As we were told by our guides, women carrying twins and triplets are a major deal and often end up earning State free health care and education. Typically, if a pregnant woman gives birth to triplets in the country side, she is localized by the closest clinic and flown by helicopter to the city hospital. During our visit we saw a woman coming from a town that 5 hours away from Pyongyang and was taken straight to this hospital for care. It is still not clear to me if health in North Korea is free for all or if it’s a privilege to few. Either way, seems like the local clinics have a selection process if the patient is a pregnant woman.
After the birth, triplets are venerated and regarded as such a cherished an event that the State offers them gifts to commemorate their birth. A gold ring for girls and gold dagger for boys
After the birth, the State takes care of them in matters of nutrition, first education and health for five years. The family is still allowed to see and stay with their children while receiving presents from the State.
As I enquired about this bizarre logic, our guide explained that triplets are expensive, especially for poor families in the countryside, so the State eases the family’s burden by looking after them. But since it’s a communist country where technically the State provides with food and houses for free I asked why the State couldn’t just simply ease the burden by sending more food to the countryside or enlarging the family house for that matter. But I received no answer to this question.
The fact that the State will try and soften the expenses of raising triplets, sounds reasonable, but since I was in North Korea, the land of mystery and twisted brainwashing, I was compelled to think “No wait, that can’t be it”.
I kept enquiring around, some theories were believable, others made no sense, but the best theory I got was that Kim Jong-il suffered from nightmares where triplets dethroned him from power, therefore a growing paranoia tormented him enough to keep an eye on every set of triplets around. As crazy as it sounds, after being in North Korea I find this one very agreeable and acceptable.