My journey in North Korea included the unusual visit to a hospital. The maternity hospital Choson Gul (평양산원) in the outskirts of Pyongyang.
To this day I still don’t quite understand why our itinerary included this stop, none of our other outings has been as strange as this one. I mean, where else in the world would a maternity hospital be a major tourist attraction? While not up to western standards, it was indeed a rare glimpse into the DPRK health system.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital is officially the jewel in the crown of North Korean national health service. The commemorating plaques at the entrance will attest its glorified foundation and, of course, a typical image for their Dear Leader & Son, founder of the hospital.
The hospital is clean and neat, big, 9 floors in total, the staff is very friendly, however, as we walked through the different unites you realize the medical equipment looks like coming from the 1940’s, much of it bearing the imprint of Siemens of West Germany.
The dentist room, where an actual dentist was performing a check up on a patient while the room was full of people staring and taking photos (yes, I was one of them). I noticed the equipment used around the room and it all looked very old. Nothing I saw in there was what I normally see in other countries.
Maternity in North Korea
The hospital employs a unique system of video booths for family to communicate with a woman who has given birth, as family members are restricted from being in personal contact with the newborn and the mother for the first few days. It is believed that this helps to prevent infections.
I asked our guide as in why the woman couldn’t receive visitors or gifts, she replied stating that this is due to hygiene reasons and gifting a patient is not in their culture. Not even if it’s a mother.
This is the booth for communicating with the new mom and see the baby
Under the rule of the Kims, it appears that maternity and triplets have a truly important role in society. They are seen as a sign of good luck for the nation. As a result, I was told that they got special treatment from birth: a separate nursery for extra care after birth, and special education in a separate school.
As we were told by our guides, women carrying twins and triplets are a major deal and often end up earning State free health care and education. Typically, if a pregnant woman gives birth to triplets in the country side, she is localized by the closest clinic and flown by helicopter to the city hospital. During our visit we saw a woman coming from a town that 5 hours away from Pyongyang and was taken straight to this hospital for care. It is still not clear to me if health in North Korea is free for all or if it’s a privilege to few. Either way, seems like the local clinics have a selection process if the patient is a pregnant woman.
Veneration or Fear of Triplets
After the birth, triplets are venerated and regarded as such a cherished an event that the State offers them gifts to commemorate their birth. A gold ring for girls and gold dagger for boys
After the birth, the State takes care of them in matters of nutrition, first education and health for five years. The family is still allowed to see and stay with their children while receiving presents from the State.
As I enquired about this bizarre logic, our guide explained that triplets are expensive, especially for poor families in the countryside, so the State eases the family’s burden by looking after them. But since it’s a communist country where technically the State provides with food and houses for free I asked why the State couldn’t just simply ease the burden by sending more food to the countryside or enlarging the family house for that matter. But I received no answer to this question.
Theories fly around subjects such as this one. Some say that Kim Jong-il suffered from nightmares where triplets dethroned him from power, therefore a growing paranoia tormented him enough to keep an eye on every set of triplets around. As crazy as it sounds, after being in North Korea I find this one very agreeable and acceptable.