SEOUL, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- The unemployment rate for North Korean defectors has trended downward in recent years but a significant number of those without jobs struggle due to worsening health.
Shim Jae-kwon, chairman of the National Assembly's Foreign and Unification Committee, said a recent survey on the economic activities of defectors in 2015 indicate 4 out of 10 unemployed defectors quit their jobs due to health issues.
Women, who account for the vast majority of the defector population, are especially vulnerable, News 1 reported Thursday.
More than 45 percent of women said they gave up work because of "bodily discomfort" and nearly 11 percent said they quit because of working conditions, including the demands on their time.
Nearly 40 percent of the defector population is also believed to be economically inactive or unemployed.
Of that group, 40 percent said they have not looked for work in the last four weeks due to "bodily discomfort," about 20 percent said they are attending school and about 10 percent said they were pregnant or occupied with child care.
According to the Korea Hana Foundation, about 73 percent of defector patients with serious chronic disease in late August received support for medical treatment, and about 84 percent of defectors with other chronic ailments received financial assistance with their hospital bills.
The South Korean parliamentary budget office also said while North Korean defectors receive special health benefits, the patient must pay 70-80 percent of nursing bills and other optional services, a financial disincentive for those who need medical attention.
Shim said Thursday the health issues of North Korean defectors are obstacles to their economic participation and a solution must be found.
North Korea has struggled with epidemics including cases of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis. Patients with the disease number 3,800 in the North, according to the World Health Organization.