The Ubungo Clinic in Dar es Salaam, one of the clinics featured in the RFA investigative report.

RFA investigation exposes health risks; government responds

Two North Korean clinics in Tanzania were ordered to close its doors in Dar es Salaam on April 15 following a series of investigative reports by RFA on North Korean medical workers’ dangerous malpractice in the country. North Korea was previously operating 12 medical clinics there, which remit about $1 million per year to Pyongyang.

According to the RFA investigation, the treatment at these clinics put the health of Tanzanians at serious risk. North Korean medical workers, unable to speak English or Swahili, are unable to properly diagnose patients and the sourcing, directions for use, and ingredients for the medicine prescribed by the clinics is unclear. According to Tanzanian law, all drugs must be clearly labeled with ingredients and instructions for use in English or Swahili but medicine prescribed by the clinics typically display neither. After local media called for a testing of the drugs being prescribed, impermissible levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other poisonous heavy metals were found in the medicines.

While investigating, RFA reporters learned of 19-year-old Gabriel Shayo who sought treatment for a hacking cough and chest pain at the North Korean clinic; it nearly cost him his life. After multiple visits during which he and his family were coerced into buying expensive herbal treatments they had never heard of, Shayo’s symptoms persisted. When Shayo began to cough up blood, he was rushed to the national hospital and diagnosed with Tuberculosis.

Not only are the misdiagnoses putting patients’ lives at risk, conditions in the clinics are uncomfortable and unsanitary. Patients are treated in rooms that lack air conditioning or fans and in which temperatures reach almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Secret video footage obtained by an RFA journalist showed a nurse placing spilled medicine into a patient’s packet by hand with no regard to hygiene.

Sources told RFA’s Korean Service that the order to close the clinics came following a meeting between the South Korean ambassador to Tanzania and the Tanzanian Minister of Health where the ambassador showed the minister RFA’s investigative reports translated into English.