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‘Vaccine Diplomacy’ Could Reduce Disease Burden On Korean Peninsula

“North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in a New Year’s Day speech, called for reductions in international tension and an end to confrontation with South Korea, while raising the prospect of reunification between the North and South,” Peter Hotez, president and director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, notes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, asking, “Could ‘vaccine diplomacy’ work on the Korean peninsula?” He writes, “The short answer is yes,” adding, “Ultimately, science diplomacy could play an essential role in helping catalyze improved North-South relations in 2013, with joint programs for elimination of neglected diseases as a cornerstone.”

Hotez “examine[s] how North Korea and South Korea diverged more than 50 years ago in their respective disease-control efforts,” noting, “In contrast to South Koreans’ public health and economic gains over the last five decades, North Koreans remain poor and sick.” He provides examples of how “vaccine diplomacy can play a key role,” and notes “there is the opportunity of true scientific alliances between nations.” Hotez continues, “North Korean scientists also could become partners in biomedical research,” and he concludes, “With adequate political will and support, this could become a breakout year for science and vaccine diplomacy to reduce the disease burden on the Korean peninsula and promote an unprecedented level of scientific collaboration” (1/24).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.