The Korea Herald


Malaria haunts border areas

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 16, 2012 - 20:12

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Soured inter-Korean ties stymie efforts to control mosquitoes

Fears of malaria haunt South Koreans living near the border with North Korea, as soured inter-Korean ties take their toll on efforts to control the disease-carrying mosquitoes that fly freely across the heavily-fortified De-Militarized Zone.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a malaria warning for parts of Incheon, Gangwon Province and some northern areas of Gyeonggi Province, all near the northern border.

Although the number of reported malaria cases so far this year is not high compared to previous years, the KCDC warned of a possible spike in the future, noting a significant growth in the population of the type of mosquito that carries the malaria parasite. 

As of Aug. 4, slightly over 300 South Koreans were diagnosed with the disease, a 45 percent drop from the corresponding period in 2011.

Sightings of female Anopheles mosquitoes, the malaria vectors, rose as much as 70 percent in the border areas from a year go, the KCDC said.

“People in the high-risk areas are advised not to engage in outdoor activities during the night, when the malaria-carrying mosquitoes prefer to bite,” the agency said in a statement.

Malaria, which has been all but wiped out in South Korea since the late 1970s, made a return in the 1990s, for which officials here blame North Korea.

“Flies know no border,” Kim Moon-soo, governor of Gyeonggi Province, where the malaria cases are concentrated.

Due to a lack of resources, the reclusive communist state has failed to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes, he said.

The disease, as a result, prevails in the North, affecting nearly 300,000 people alone in 2001.

The South Korean government has provided anti-malaria aid through international bodies since 2001, which helped bring down the number of malaria cases in the North to below 8,000 in 2007.

This reduced the number of patients in the South, mostly soldiers and border area residents, from 4,000 in 2000 to 1,023 in 2008.

The trend, however, did not last.

As South-North relations worsened, with the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean solider in 2008, and the deadly torpedoing of a South Korean naval ship and shelling of a border island by North Korea in 2010, South’s anti-malaria aid to the North has stopped.

This year, the communist state is not responding to South’s offer to provide anti-malaria aid, officials said.

“About 1 billion won has been secured for anti-malaria supplies for North Korea. We’re ready to send them over once the North replies,” an official at Gyeonggi provincial government said.

The type of malaria found in Korea is P vivax, or tertian malaria. It is not as deadly as some forms of the disease prevalent in tropical areas, but left untreated, it can be fatal.

Its symptoms include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. The symptoms usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite.

By Lee Sun-young (