JOURNAL ARTICLE

Attempts to utilize and integrate traditional medicine in North Korea

Byungmook Lim, Jongbae Park, Changyon Han
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Research on Paradigm, Practice, and Policy 2009, 15 (3): 217-23
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AIM: To summarize the way North Korea attempted to modernize its system of traditional medicine and integrate it with Western biomedicine.

METHODS: We reviewed clinical textbooks and periodicals of traditional Korean medicine published in North Korea, research reports on North Korean health and medicine published elsewhere, and conducted interviews of defectors from North Korea who were students or clinicians of traditional medicine.

RESULTS: Key findings of this study are: (1) North Korea has attempted several ways of integrating traditional medicine into education and clinical practices; (2) North Korea's communist government provided the main driving force for an integration policy; (3) school curricula of both Western and traditional Korean medicine incorporated knowledge of both disciplines, yet more weight was placed on traditional Korean medicine; (4) a combination of Western diagnosis and Korean therapeutics was the most frequent example of integration, while the dual system approach with reciprocal practice was also explored; (5) several forms of integrative therapeutic mixture were practiced including concurrent medication, injection on acupuncture points, and intramuscular or intravenous injection of extracts from medicinal plants; and (6) limited resources for research and the underdeveloped level of clinical research failed to secure rigorous scientific advancement.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite the government-driven attempt to create an ideal integrative system of medicine, according to our findings, the actual introduction of an integrative system into practice was far from the North Korean government's anticipated outcome in regards to clinical practice. We hypothesize this was due to famine, economic crisis, and political isolation from the international realm. Traditional Korean medicine seems to have served the population, which is in desperate need of treatment amid difficulties in health, while North Korea's Western biomedicine-based health delivery system has been badly affected.

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