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May 7, 2013
Ginseng, bear bile: North Koreans look to old cures

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- The Man Nyon Pharmacy is lined with rows of colorful packages containing everything from dried bear bile and deer antler elixir to tiger bone paste and ginseng. But the ancient "Koryo" medicine provided at this popular dispensary isn't just for minor aches and pains.

It has been integrated into the health system from the smallest village clinic all the way up to the nicest showcase hospitals in the privileged capital of Pyongyang. Both modern and traditional styles of healing have long been uniquely intertwined nationwide with doctors from both schools working in tandem under one roof.

North Korean physicians say many patients prefer traditional medicine to the Western kind, but it's difficult to determine the true situation in this closed and impoverished society where access is limited. Defectors, foreign aid workers and North Koreans agree that many Western drugs are scarce and say villagers still forage for plants in some areas to make their own herbal concoctions.

With the U.N. Security Council imposing its toughest-ever sanctions following North Korea's third nuclear test in February, patients may become even more dependent on these home-grown remedies in a country of 24 million people where government health spending ranks among the world's lowest.

(21 images)




A pharmacist at the Kaeson Clinic in the Moranbong District of Pyongyang, North Korea gathers traditional "Koryo" medicine for a patient waiting at the window on Feb. 21, 2013. Koryo medicine has been integrated into the health system from the smallest village clinic all the way up to the capital. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Hospital staff care for two men waiting to receive traditional Koryo medical treatment at Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. The man at left was suffering from chronic stomach pain. Both modern and traditional styles of healing have long been uniquely intertwined nationwide with doctors from both schools working in tandem under one roof. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A doctor warms a cold stethoscope before placing it onto the skin of a baby held by its mother at the Kaeson Clinic in the Moranbong District of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. Both modern and traditional styles of healing have long been uniquely intertwined nationwide with doctors from both schools working in tandem under one roof. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A sign asking for quiet hangs in the hallway of a village clinic in Ryongsan-ri, North Hwanghae province, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 22, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A doctor visits a patient at a village clinic in Ryongsan-ri, North Hwanghae province, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 22, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Cancer patients rest inside their hospital room in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013, at a breast cancer institute which opened in 2012. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A man with severe back pain waits in the hallway of Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013 before he is treated with traditional acupuncture needles attached to an electric charge. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A painting of the late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hangs inside a medical facility in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A patient lies on a bed wearing leggings, to help with circulation problems, and her winter coat at the Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A frilly cover protects the monitor of a desktop computer in an office inside Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A jar containing a fat-preserved ginseng root believed to be a century old is seen at the Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. Traditional medicine is used widely in many Asian countries, including China, Japan and South Korea, where there is no shortage of modern treatment and equipment. And while scientific research regarding the benefits of some age-old treatments is lacking, therapies such as massage and acupuncture - which can also serve as a local anesthetic - are now widely used in the West. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A sachet of powdered bear bile sits in a display case at the Man Nyon Pharmacy, the nation's largest dispensary of traditional "Koryo" medicine, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A nurse stands near drawers containing small sachets of traditional "Koryo" medicine at the Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A pharmacist waits for customers at the Man Nyon Pharmacy, the nation's largest dispensary of traditional "Koryo" medicine, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. North Korea began marrying traditional medicine with modern practice in the 1950s after the Korean War. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Bottles of deer antler elixir sit on a shelf at the Man Nyon Pharmacy, the nation's largest dispensary of traditional "Koryo" medicine, in Pyongyang, North Korea. AP / David Guttenfelder
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People wait in a hallway at Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 20, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Patients and medical staff walk on the ground floor of Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 20, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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A clinic staff member looks out of a window at the Kaeson Clinic in the Moranbong District of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Family members of a hospital patient bring a blanket and other items during a visit to Pyongyang Medical College in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder
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Women walk in the neighborhood surrounding, and served by the Kaeson Clinic in the Moranbong District of Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 21, 2013 . AP / David Guttenfelder
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A woman walks through the parking lot of the Man Nyon Pharmacy, the nation's largest dispensary of traditional "Koryo" medicine, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Feb. 20, 2013. AP / David Guttenfelder

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