Unifying North and South Korea will not be an easy task. There are many different variables to consider when understanding such an undertaking such as cost, politics, business, international relations, crime, etc.

A Ministry of Finance report from 2013 calculated the presumable costs of Korean unification. The ministry estimated that the financial cost would run as high as 7 percent of South Korean GDP which was roughly 80 billion USD at the time. In 2015, South Korea’s Financial Services Commission estimated the costs to be roughly 500 billion USD over a 20-year period.

It is important to remember the multiple definitions of the word “cost.” It has more than just a financial meaning to it. Although the financial costs of Korean unification are the primary concern for most South Koreans, the former president of Korea University Anam Hospital has a different point of view.

Kim Young-hoon believes that the most pressing issue facing Korean unification is the risk of the spread of infectious diseases. Moreover, South Korea is unaware of the risks of these diseases. North Korea had roughly 110,000 tuberculosis, or TB, patients within their country. 5,000 of these patients died back in 2014, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). He continues further with the realization that many of the TB cases are resistant to multiple drugs. This heightens concern for South Korean medical professionals as they will be unable to fight the highly contagious infection.

South Korea is currently struggling to reduce its own issues with TB. According to the WHO, South Korea has the highest TB rate of all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The high risk of infection may be detrimental to North Korean citizens as well. Being closed off from the world at large for so long, many North Korean citizens may not be immune to the diseases that would not affect the global population.

Unification may also affect the life expectancy of South Koreans given the overall health status of North Koreans. The average life span of North Koreans is 69.5 years compared to the 81 years for South Koreans.

Thankfully, the Ministry of Unification is in agreeance with Dr. Kim and has created the Inter-Korea Foundation for Health and Medical Education at Korea University. The program launches this coming September and will study the health and medical implications of Korean unification. Their primary objective is to understand the types of cardiac disorders common to the North and how they can be treated with limited resources.

North Korean refugees are also included in the research of the foundation. The foundation documents the health status of the refugees upon entry and monitors their changes as the refugees adapt to the “Westernized lifestyle of South Korea.”

Medical terminology is also being unified in order to ensure efficiency in communication should unification occur. Terms used in the North are either Korean or Russian, where in the South; most medical terminology is in English. Unifying medical terminology will allow for efficiency in diagnosis, communication with patients, and clear cataloguing of prescriptions and vaccines for pharmacists.

South Korea’s understanding of the meaning of “cost” has illustrated a clear and educated comprehension of what it means to unify the North and South. The Ministry of Unification understands and continues to make strong and effective efforts to prepare for one Korea.

 Kychele Boone

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