[위원 칼럼 시리즈 1] A NUAC member’s point of view on the Korean Peninsula as one living Community.
While serving as a member of the National Unification Advisory Council (NUAC) Hawaii Chapter for 3.5 years, I have always thought about the unification of my country. Everyone can agree that supportive and participating NUAC members can contribute to peaceful unification individually, but it may also seem that our individual activities and chapter events may be insignificant or too abstract. The Korean government’s unification policies are diligently updated according to the international situation and are clearly important. As I try to understand updates about political and military alliances and all the connections of NUAC events to peaceful unification, I get some reassurance from familiar phrases and ideas but there is still an impression that some of the lofty aspects are only loosely connected with immediate, practical needs.The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the perspective that the Korean peninsula must be seen as one living community. The pandemic has increased my sympathy for, and my interest in, this concept of one living community. My professional work has included years of applied entomological research, with laboratory and field studies of the ways in which insects destroy important human food crops or serve in transmission networks of diseases harmful to people. Insects involved in carrying pathogens among organisms in disease transmission networks are called “vectors.” By my experience, I can see how the one living community concept ties entomological vector science and human health. I can also see how entomological vector science and human health connect with inter-Korean research exchanges. These connections are easier for me to grasp than international political affairs. COVID-19 has spread all over the world and caused many casualties. This COVID-19 experience has raised popular awareness of the importance and ramifications of infectious diseases tremendously. Transmission and spread of infectious diseases may have seemed of limited importance, even abstract, to many people a short time ago. That has changed because of COVID-19.in the early 1990s. Several studies on malaria emphasized that the Korean peninsula exist as one mosquito-living community: a positive correlation was found between the number of malaria patients in South Korea and the number of mosquitoes in North Korea. Different mosquito species often have many differences in their life habits, including their usual traveling distances. It is important to understand that mosquitoes can travel long distances. There are African malaria mosquitoes the females of which can travel 300 km during their adult lives. Such a travel distance is not required to cross the DMZ. Malaria mosquitoes living near the DMZ can easily cover a distance of 5 km in their brief lives. Using their natural travel abilities, mosquito species already living in the Korean peninsula can also transmit and spread Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever, Zika virus infection, West Nile fever, and Chikungunya fever among people in the north and south. To limit the occurrence and spread of COVID-19, local efforts to control human movements and activities (such as quarantine) can be very effective. This is because actions between people are very important to the transmission and spread of the infection. Insect-borne diseases, like malaria, can be very different because they are significantly affected by climate and environmental changes. These latter factors are not readily, and especially not quickly, controllable by social, political, and military policies. It may be difficult to gain much local control of insect-borne infectious diseases in the south or the north separately. It is not clear that large-scale cooperative plans adequately address the kind of adjustments needed to limit, reduce, or eliminate these threats to human and economic health.In a news article, the former South Korean Minister of Health and Welfare, Neunghoo Park, commented on the fact that South Korea is afraid of North Korean malaria and that North Korea is afraid of South Korean influenza. He said, “Because both South and North Korea are afraid of the other’s illness they will be able to easily agree on healthcare cooperation.” Regarding inter-Korean healthcare cooperation, he emphasized the necessity of high-level talks between the two Koreans: “When inter-Korean exchanges are expanded, we must always communicate with each other to prevent the influx and spread of infectious diseases between the two Koreas” (Chosunilbo, Oct.13, 2018). We need to take a careful approach from the perspective of new security, especially health security, and highlight the importance of infectious disease connections in addition to military and political ones. Moonjin Yang, a professor at the North Korea Graduate University, said in a Korea policy briefing, “If there is a lesson learned from COVID-19, the physical boundaries of the land we live in are no longer meaningful. The Korean Peninsula is a life and safe community. When the spread of infectious disease is cross-border, it has become clear that the south and north, we share the Korean Peninsula in half, must strive to protect each other‘s lives in safety” (www.korea.kr, Jan. 11, 2021).Looking at the Korean peninsula in terms of one living community, I think the cooperation in healthcare relations is a very urgent and important matter for action. We need to manage existing infectious diseases and we need to effectively prepare for the outbreak of newly emerging ones. We must construct institutional cooperation in healthcare and academic research between the two Koreas. This cooperative construction needs to be built to be resistant to political circumstances. This institutional corporation must include actions that protect the health of the one living community of Korea over the long term and that immediately make responses to infectious disease outbreaks and other disasters more effective. The concept of new proactive security will sustain and strengthen the health of the Korean peninsula now and for generations to come.