SEOUL, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- North Korea's medical black market has expanded dramatically as state-run clinics have languished and doctors can no longer making a living solely on hospital salaries.
A source in North Korea's South Pyongan province told South Korean news outlet Daily NK that the burgeoning black market in medicine has launched second careers for retired North Korean doctors and for self-taught East Asian medicine practitioners.
"Free healthcare from the state...is a thing of the past, and it's already been 20 years since the black market in privately manufactured pharmaceuticals was created," the source said.
Daily NK's North Korean contact said ordinary North Koreans regularly tap into the informal network of medical practitioners who diagnose diseases, then prescribe drugs and refer patients to unofficial pharmacists.
The quality of black market medicine has improved, and the number of doctors who provide accurate diagnoses have increased in the country – reducing the mortality rate, said the source.
Many doctors in the black market are affiliated with state-run hospitals but their meager salaries cannot keep up with living expenses, said the source. Some physicians have retired from the system to start their private practice and rather than studying Western medicine are self-taught in the principles of traditional Chinese and Korean medicine, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.
North Korean hospitals have been hit hard in recent years. According to the source, patients are forced to provide bribes to underfunded state-run hospitals because proper diagnosis and treatment cannot be guaranteed. Private practice has boomed because the state-run network is unreliable, and the black market has matured and become more structured, said the source.
Ordinary North Koreans seeking help with their health problems are often seen lining up outside reputable private clinics and waiting for hours to seek a proper diagnosis. Diagnosis costs about $10, but the price of prescriptions varies widely, according to the source.
The state does not approve of the black market in medicine, but the source said many state officials rely on private practitioners for a proper diagnosis.