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South Korea to open child nutrition center in Pyongyang later this year

A nutrition center for children will open in Pyongyang this August with the support of South Korean funds, civic group Okedongmu Children in Korea said yesterday.

(South Korean Times / March 4, 2003) -- The four-story center will specialize in combating diarrhea, one of the major causes of infant deaths, and will span 600 pyong (one pyong equals 3.3 square meters), the group said.

Seoul National University Children’s Hospital and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) in North Korea are also involved in the project.

An 11-member team of South Korean medical experts visited the North last month to check the progress of the construction work and meet with Pyongyang officials.

The center will be run by North Koreans, but South Korean medical staff will continue to offer medical assistance, providing the latest medical techniques to treat diarrhea as well as special checkups.

More than $4 million has been collected in the South for construction costs and purchasing medical supplies.

``The center, the first of its kind in North Korea, is significant in the fact that the South and North are working together in the planning, construction and operations to improve the nutrition of North Korean children,’’ an Okedongmu official said.

A World Health Organization report issued in 2000 estimated that at least 120,000 North Korean children under the age of five die from respiratory infections and diarrhea every year. The report suggested malnutrition was a decisive factor in the deaths.

Founded in 1996, Okedongmu has carried out various cultural and educational exchange programs with the North, especially those related to children. Okedongmu means ``shoulder to shoulder,’’ or ``childhood playmate.’’

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