A German physician who worked as a volunteer doctor in North Korea for 18 months until being expelled at the end of last year has called for action to help suffering children in the country.

Nobert Vollertsen, 43, who entered North Korea as chief of an emergency medical team with the nongovernmental organization German Emergency Doctors, was able to move freely in North Korea after being awarded a friendship medal for providing his own skin to perform a skin graft operation on a badly burned patient.

“I’m a humanitarian aid worker, I’m a doctor and I’m an emergency doctor. And those children are dying and starving,” he told a professional luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan earlier this week.

“I thought it was my moral duty to act,” he said of his efforts to draw attention to the near-primitive conditions in North Korean hospitals, and the children who are suffering as a result. “I have to do something.”

Vollertsen, who entered North Korea in July 1999, was deported in December for speaking out on the conditions there.

Describing the appalling conditions in North Korean hospitals, Vollertsen said, “They have no running water. No electricity. . . . They do not have any medicine, no bandage material, no drugs. Nothing.”

The physician said that hospital walls are covered with mold, and that in the winter, temperatures fell to below minus 15 degrees inside the hospital.

Due to the unhygienic conditions at the hospitals, Vollertsen said, “All the people are getting much sicker instead of healthier.

“Some of those children are in such a bad condition, there is no more emotion,” he said. “There is no emotional reaction anymore.”

A Japanese translation of the 16 volumes of diaries he kept during his stay in North Korea went on sale at bookstores in Japan on Tuesday. The 270-page book is called “Diary of a Mad Place.”

Referring to the friendship medal, Vollertsen said, “I thought I had to take it as a duty. I wanted to be a real friend, I took it seriously. I wanted to be a friend of the ordinary people.

“I feel I have to talk about these things because I’m German, I’m concerned, and I have to do something,” he said. “I can’t wait for reunification. I have to act now.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.