The UN-led vaccine development agency will work in North Korea next year for the first time to protect children from bacterial meningitis and Japanese encephalitis, officials said yesterday.
The Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI) said in a press statement that 3,000 children would be treated under a pilot project to be launched early next year.
The agency will soon finalize project details and also help the North improve its diagnosis capabilities, with IVI director-general John Clemens to meet with North Korean officials in Beijing before month's end, it said.
The impoverished North has yet to introduce vaccines against the two diseases, which still pose a major threat to children in developing countries, the IVI said.
"These are devastating infections, with high mortality rates and high rates of permanent neurological disability among children who survive," Clemens said. "We hope this is the beginning of our expanding partnership with DPRK [North Korea] authorities in the coming years."
IVI said it had organized a tour for North Korean vaccine experts in China and Vietnam in May to help them understand the agency's pilot project for the country.
Established as an initiative of the UN Development Program in 1997, IVI is the only international organization devoted solely to providing new vaccines for developing countries.
Meanwhile, the death toll of in floods that swept the country earlier this month has doubled, along with the estimated amount of damage to crops.
Citing North Korea's Central Statistics Bureau, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday that at least 600 people were dead or missing, and thousands more injured.
Earlier, international aid groups had put the toll at about 300 dead or missing.
KCNA said the heavy rains caused "huge material losses" to the country, "creating unprecedented difficulties in people's living and economic construction."
North Korea's Agriculture Ministry said the devastating floods damaged more than 20 percent of the country's rice paddies and 15 percent of its corn-growing areas, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement posted on its Web site on Saturday.
The North had previously said the storms destroyed more than 11 percent of its crops.
The UN office also cited North Korean government figures saying the floods had displaced 169,561 people.
The rains also flooded four railroad tunnels and triggered landslides that buried at least 200 sections of track, the KCNA report said. Thousands of sections of roads and bridges also were destroyed, KCNA said.
The week of severe storms brought the country's heaviest rainfall in 40 years.
Jo Yong-nam, head of North Korea's recovery efforts, said the flood damage in financial terms was 10 times worse than last year, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan reported on Thursday.