Back in 2011, we reported on an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in the North following a much larger outbreak in the South that cost billions of dollars to contain. North Korea is now experiencing a new outbreak of the disease in Pyongyang and North Hwanghae Province, centered on pig farms.
The difficulties of controlling FMD are both technical and behavioral, and raise particular concerns in countries such as North Korea because of the lack of investment in the public health system: lack of preventive medicine, diagnostic kits and disinfectant. Standard practice is that all infected animals should be slaughtered and disposed of within twenty-four hours of diagnosis to reduce the time over which animals are producing and releasing virus. Obviously, this is difficult for authorities and farmers to do. The KCNA has reported that of 3,200 pigs infected 360 died from the disease and another 2,900 were culled.
North Korea has generally been cooperative with the World Animal Health Organization, although Pyongyang waited more than a month before notifying the organization this time around. Effective quarantine is also crucial—both internal and external–and Seoul has taken steps around Kaesong and with respect to the family reunion visits.
The silver lining is that the South has decided to offer North Korea vaccine and medical equipment and proposed meetings on the issue which would constitute the first government-to-government aid program in some time. Humanitarian assistance to the South under the Park government has been limited to granting permission to NGOs to operate North of the border. North Korea also approached the FAO this week. The country received about $800,000 worth of foot-and-mouth vaccines in the wake of the last outbreak, funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).