A good deed is punished

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A good deed is punished


The Onjeong People’s Hospital in Onjeong-ri, near Mount Kumgang, North Korea, was once considered insignificant, but it emerged as one of the North’s best hospitals recently. It was mainly due to five South Korean doctors, who began to volunteer in the North once every two weeks since January last year.
They treated nearly 1,000 North Koreans during the past year. They helped 40 patients suffering from cataracts emerge from the dark and recover sight. North Korean doctors watched them with surprise at first, but soon learned how to use advanced medical techniques. The Korean Foundation for International Healthcare played a leadership role in facilitating such volunteer work, expanding the size of the hospital and providing it with more operating rooms. The foundation also kept its work secret so as not to hurt the North’s pride. As time went by, the North soon changed its attitude toward their effort and worked to help the doctors cross the border easily. Patients never failed to express their gratitude.
However, something unexpected happened. High-level officials from Pyongyang and Wonsan came after hearing the news about their work. The number of the hospital’s high-ranking patients exceeded more than 50 as of the end of last year. They made plausible excuses to go on vacation to Mount Kumgang and came to the hospital to see the doctors. Soon after, North Korean authorities abruptly banned the entry of the doctors. “No more medical treatments; medicines only,” they were told. Their medical treatment has been stopped since mid-April.
An official from the foundation said, “Following the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the North has been trying to keep South Korean influence under control.” The North has wielded the whip.
The Korean Foundation for International Healthcare had no choice but to postpone its plan to lend support to a bigger People’s Hospital in Goseong-eup. The Foundation plans to provide them dental amalgam and plaster as soon as possible, for treating dental patients.
It is disgraceful for the North to prevent South Korean doctors from providing aid to North Korean patients. We all know that such an action will aggravate the pain suffered by North Korean people.
We should expand the scope of our humanitarian aid, though our relations with the North might be less warm than before.
Many South Korean doctors are standing in line to volunteer to help others in North Korea.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Chul-ho [newsty@joongang.co.kr]
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