It’s hard to think about North Korea without the association of nuclear weapons, but the concern here is often involved with those in danger outside of the country. However, people who have escaped from North Korea have their own stories to tell…that is, if they can live to tell them.
It’s no secret that the incredibly isolated country is built on a foundation of outrageous, state-generated mythology and governed by equally bizarre laws. However, the mystery shrouding living conditions in North Korea has long-prevented Westerners from understanding just exactly what goes on in daily life. Recently, there have been more and more reports of a "ghost disease," named for the high number of fatalities that are rapidly stacking up. Thought, but not proven, to be associated with radiation poisoning in North Korea, scientists are stumped as to how exactly the ghost disease works, why it's killing so quickly, and why now, of all times.
Working from the evidence they have, which is largely just the bodies of afflicted defectors, the world is trying to piece together the facts about the mysterious, North Korean ghost disease.
Deformed Babies And Corpses In The River: Welcome To Pungyye-Ri
Of the 30 some deflectors that have come forward with the Ghost Disease, all hail from the Kilju Region in North Korea, which, not so coincidentally, is home to Punggye-Ri, an infamous nuclear testing site.
Even before the Ghost Disease became a globally recognized phenomenon, Punggye-Ri was already home to several large-scale tragedies, including an unannounced test that is rumored to have triggered an earthquake that killed 150 school children, and a tunnel collapse that claimed another 200 lives.
Kilju is seemingly marked by disaster and illness associated with Punggye-Ri. Other headlines this year include numerous reports of deformed babies and corpses floating downstream from the testing region.
Chronic Pain And Crippling Deformities: The Slow Road To Death With The Ghost Disease
The few defectors who have even managed to make it out of North Korea mostly suffer the symptoms of a chronic pain that afflicts their entire body, and includes brutal headaches and frequent vomiting. However, their reports of incredibly deformed infants are also associated with the disease.
As one defector said, "“I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there." In North Korea, it is allegedly common practice to kill deformed babies, and hence evidence of these births in the already highly-guarded country is nearly impossible to come by.
Another defector by the name of Rhee Yeong Si, said that her neighbor gave birth to a baby without any genitals. The parents killed the baby themselves, but this is thought to be a gruesome example of just what the ghost disease is doing to the extremely poor communities in the Kilju Region.
It's Textbook Radiation Poisoning...Except For The Absence Of Radiation
The painful symptoms, deaths, and deformities associated with the Ghost Disease align perfectly with affects of radiation poisoning. It is also undeniable that citizens living in the Kilju Region are being exposed to some level of radiation, given the increased number of testings over the last year.
So, it seems very clear that the Ghost Disease is somehow directly related to the nuclear testing events. Except for one thing: all deflectors that have been tested and treated for radiation in South Korea all received negative radiation test results. As in, no, there is zero evidence of radiation in their bodies, or at least nothing over normal levels.
Everyone Was Dying, But Nobody Knew Why
Due to the extreme measures taken to ensure secrecy and isolation from the outside world, it's hard to fathom just exactly what goes on in daily life for the average North Korean citizen. One thing that is clear is that outside of the capital of Pyongyang, rural areas are primitive in comparison.
No stranger to droughts and famines, North Korea has a very high rate of malnutrition and malnourishment, with a recent report surveying that 1 in 4 children suffer from malnutrition. Hence, when citizens in the Kilju Region began dying mysteriously in large numbers, it wasn't too out of the question that it was associated with poor diet and extremely scarce food resources.
"We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly," said one deflector, Lee Jeong-hwa, who suffers from the Ghost Disease. After seven years of failure, Lee finally escaped to South Korea, where doctors began to try to treat her condition. As more and more deflectors were able to share their stories with South Korea and hence the outside world, all fingers began pointing back to Punggye-ri, and the toxic radiation from the numerous testings.