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The price North Korea has been willing to pay in the pursuit of nuclear power has been the lives of its own people, those who fled the regime now calling attention to a mysterious “ghost disease” say.


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A lengthy report from NBC News getting the inside story from North Korean defectors now living in South Korea reveals that the people living thought they were dying because they were poor and ate poorly. The reality that they’ve learned is that living near a nuclear testing site and radiation exposure explains what they had called “ghost disease.”

Lee Jeong Hwa said she lives in constant pain even after her escape in 2010. She had tried to escape once before in 2003 but was caught.

Lee said that so many were afflicted by unexplained disease that they called it “ghost disease.”

“So many people died, we began calling it ‘ghost disease.’ We thought we were dying because we were poor, and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation,” she said.

Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father and predecessor, tested two nuclear bombs near where Lee lived, and Kim Jong-un has done the same on four occasions, NBC News reported.

The interesting thing is that Lee and others have all testified that they believe radiation has caused their illnesses and lasting pain. Doctors, on the other hand, haven’t found evidence of that.

After 29 tests of defectors from the Kilju area, results have come back “clean,” and although one professor says “I don’t think they’re lying,” a “total lack of data” means doctors and researchers have to “take their word.”

There was another instance recently where a North Korean defector’s medical health puzzled doctors.

South Korean surgeons were disturbed to discover that Oh, the soldier who was shot fleeing North Korea but survived, had tuberculosis, hepatitis B and 10-inch parasitic worms in his intestines.

“In my 20 years as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a medical textbook,” surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said. “He’s quite a strong man.”

Doctors were also vexed by the raw corn kernels in Oh’s stomach.

RELATED: Kim Jong-un bans drinking, dancing, and singing

Oh said that his greatest fear was going back to North Korea.

Matt Naham About the author:
Matt Naham is the Weekend Editor  for Rare. Follow him on Twitter @matt_naham.
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