SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has been stepping up efforts to complete the stalled construction of a general hospital in Pyongyang by the end of the year, state media reports showed Monday.
North Korea held a groundbreaking ceremony of the envisioned Pyongyang General Hospital in March 2020, with leader Kim Jong-un attending the event and calling for the completion of the hospital in the "shortest time" by setting it as a "top priority project."
The North had initially planned to open the hospital on the occasion of the 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party that year, but the completion was delayed, raising speculation over difficulties in securing construction material and medical equipment amid strict COVID-19 lockdowns and U.N. sanctions on its nuclear and missile programs.
Recent reports by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showed that the North appears to be working to complete the construction of the hospital by the end of the year.
In a policy speech on Jan. 15, Kim called for an improvement in the public health sector, saying that health facilities "suited for the new era" will be available should the Pyongyang General Hospital go into operation this year.
On Feb. 2, Premier Kim Tok-hun visited the hospital construction site and instructed officials and builders to complete a "modern medical service base as early as possible," according to the KCNA.
Reports based on interviews with North Korean defectors have shown that the health rights of North Koreans are being severely breached due to the apparent collapse of the country's public health system.
Defectors were quoted as saying that they have to individually hire doctors or bribe health officials to receive medical treatment, according to a human rights white paper published by the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank.
The white paper also said that North Korean residents tend to use drugs for medical treatment due to a lack of medicine and medical knowledge, which resulted in cases of fatal drug addiction.
A recent unification ministry report on North Korea's economic and social situations showed 39.6 percent of the respondents had no experience of receiving medical treatment at a hospital, citing in-depth interviews with 6,351 North Korean defectors conducted between 2013 and 2022.
Some 45 percent of the respondents said they had to buy medicine at the North's unofficial private markets, known as "jangmadang." Only 21.3 percent said they were prescribed medicine for free at hospitals.