Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Malaria is steadily declining in North Korea but more than 1 million North Koreans remain susceptible to the infectious disease, the World Health Organization said in a new report.
The WHO's 2020 edition of the World Malaria Report released Monday shows North Korea's malaria cases continue to decline, with 1,869 cases recorded in 2019, Radio Free Asia's Korean service reported.
The number indicates progress on malaria in North Korea. In 2018, the country confirmed 3,698 cases of the mosquito-borne infectious disease and 7,409 cases in 2015.
The decline in cases does not mean the disease has been eradicated from the country, where the crumbling healthcare system is not prepared to deal with pandemics like COVID-19, according to defectors in the South. There are still about 1.67 million North Koreans who are at risk of malaria, according to the WHO.
Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO's global malaria program, said the international response to malaria has been limited amid COVID-19, according to RFA.
"Progress can also be accelerated by stepping up political leadership, strengthening malaria surveillance, ensuring equity in access to quality health services, and embracing innovation," Alonso said during a recent videoconference.
North Korea has often been evaluated as a country in dire need of outside aid, but international sanctions adopted in 2017 require humanitarian aid groups apply for sanctions exemption each time they deliver supplies to the isolated country.
The United Nations Security Council could be relaxing the restrictions.
On Monday the U.N. North Korea sanctions committee said it has approved a revision to its "Implementation Assistance Notice No. 7." The exemption period will be extended from six to nine months, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Seoul's unification ministry welcomed the changes on Tuesday, calling the revision a move that "guarantees the autonomy and flexibility of organizations supporting North Korea," News 1 reported.