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In the early years, North Korea set up an army of household doctors, each responsible for overseeing basic health within their communities. Tens of thousands of these physicians still exist today, with one doctor responsible for about 130 households.
North Korea has been applauded by the WHO and others for its mass mobilization, successful child immunization programs and health promotion — systematic approaches commonly deployed in top-down socialist countries. These programs are among the few reminders left of a free universal health system that in the 1960s boasted more hospital beds and a lower infant death rate than the South.
Now, it's mostly Pyongyang that benefits.
At the new breast cancer center, guide Mun stops on the stairs to show off a wide strip of jade-colored marble that "looks like a waterfall flowing down." He explains that the wooden railing was replaced with stone because Kim Jong Un thought anything less would cheapen the facility.
A female doctor later stops to point out shimmering prisms dangling from a golden chandelier before leaning in to whisper: "Look closely, doesn't it look like a breast?"
At the end of the tour, in a room with photos of founding leader Kim Il Sung and son Kim Jong Il looming overhead, Mun hands visitors a large guest book filled with pages of messages scrawled in many languages.
Please write your impression of the hospital, he says smiling, handing over a pen.
Associated Press writer Elizabeth Shim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.
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