North Korea is a country shrouded in secrecy – it's one of the most closed off, insular places in the entire world. Westerners don't often get a chance to peer inside the heavily guarded borders and discover the true living conditions in North Korea. When visitors do manage to cross the South Korean border into the North, they're ushered into a pristine communist state where citizens appear to have a glowing admiration for their controversial leader, and problems like unemployment and poverty are virtually nonexistent. This façade is polished with staged community events and the fact that no one is allowed to leave the country with photos that depict the military or the poverty outside of wealthy city of Pyongyang. There were even rumors that citizens were sent to labor camps for not crying over the death of their former leader Kim Jong-il in 2011, an allegation the state firmly denies.
Though North Korea's constant nuclear testing attempts to paint the country as a fierce, wealthy military competitor who'd stop at nothing to protect its citizens, the health concerns of North Korean defectors show a different side of the story. Many of those who have risked their lives to defect from the communist state have found their insides ravaged by creepy parasitic infections – some of the worst doctors have ever seen, and all at the hands of their supposed "dear leaders."
North Korean defectors infected with parasites remain a testament to the poverty running rampant through the world's most enigmatic country, but just how bad does it actually get? And what is actually happening on the inside of the Hermit Kingdom?
North Korean Farmers Use Human Feces As Crop Fertilizer Because Of A Lack Of Resources
Until the 1970s, the Soviet Union provided North Korean farmers with chemical fertilizer. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea could no longer keep a sufficient supply and focused on building up its "self reliance" instead, which was meant to be a use of natural animal-induced fertilizer. But a lack of livestock in the country led to a dependency on human excrement, which they call "night soil," to nourish their crops.
Night soil has been lauded by Kim Jong Un as the "best fertilizer in North Korea" despite its significant risk of carrying parasites and worms. In 2014, the leader instructed farmers to use a mix of human feces, animal waste and compost to fertilize their fields. The belief is that vegetables grown on human waste taste better. But the people of North Korea are, for the most part, totally malnourished. So their feces are not the healthiest or best options for fertilizing crops that are meant for human consumption.
Doctors Found An 11-Inch Canine Parasite Inside The Gut Of A Defected Soldier
In November of 2017, a North Korean soldier named Oh Chong Song stole a jeep and sped across the demilitarized zone into South Korea. Chong Song crawled towards the border on his hands and knees as soldiers fired at him with AK-47s. He was found clinging to life beneath a pile of leaves just across the border in the South by South Korean soldiers, who dragged him to safety and brought him to the hospital.
What doctors found was almost as horrific as his five gunshot wounds. During an intense and lengthy surgery to repair his digestive tract, South Korean doctors discovered dozens of parasites, one of which was nearly a foot long. “I spent more than 20 years of experience as a surgeon, but I have not found parasites this big in the intestines of South Koreans,” Doctor Lee Cook-Jong told CNN. One of the parasites was typically only found in dogs.
Dozens Of Parasites Inside A Defector Were Literally Eating His Bullet Wounds
Doctors were able to remove all of defector Oh Chong Song's parasites, but it wasn't easy. The parasites weren't just gigantic, they were vicious.
“We [were] struggling with treatment as we found a large number of parasites in the soldier’s stomach, invading and eating into the wounded areas. We have also discovered a parasite never seen in Koreans before. It is making the situation worse and causing tremendous complications.”
Dr. Lee told the Korea Biomedical Review, later adding, "It's a miracle he survived."
Parasites like the kind found in Chong Song's gut are typically only transferred to the digestive tract through poor hygiene and sanitation, an issue that's prevalent inside North Korea's secretive borders.
A Defecting Soldier Was So Riddled With Bullet Holes And Parasites, Doctors Called Him A 'Broken Jar'
North Korean defector Oh Chong Song was clinging to life when he was brought to Lee Cook-Jong's operating table in South Korea. He was reported to have suffered from catastrophic blood loss and needed surgery to remove the bullet fragments in his intestines, where he was shot five times. The surgery wasn't typical. What doctors described was a clear scene from a horror film. “He was like a broken jar. We couldn't put enough blood into him," Chook-Jong told CNN. He went on to describe the soldiers riddled body:
“Everything was stained with blood, but the parasite was basically a really white color and this thick, big, long and very, very hard, this kind of thing was getting out from his bowel system."