Poverty and InequalitySexual and Reproductive HealthFamily, Maternal & Child HealthMethodology

Human Rights as Political Determinants of Health: A Retrospective Study of North Korean Refugees

TitleHuman Rights as Political Determinants of Health: A Retrospective Study of North Korean Refugees
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsCha, J, Surkan, PJ, Kim, J, Yoon, IA, Robinson, C, Cardozo, BL, Lee, H
JournalAm J Prev Med
Date PublishedAug
ISBN Number0749-3797
Accession Number29934018

INTRODUCTION: The gravity, scale, and nature of human rights violations are severe in North Korea. Little is known about the mental health consequences of the lifelong exposures to these violations. METHODS: In 2014-2015, a retrospective study was conducted among 383 North Korean refugees in South Korea using respondent-driven sampling to access this hidden population. This study collected information on the full range of political and economic rights violations and measured post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression symptoms, and social functioning by standard instruments. Multivariate regression analysis was performed with the adjustment of political, economic, and demographic variables in 2016-2017. RESULTS: The results indicate elevated symptoms of anxiety (60.1%, 95% CI=54.3%, 65.7%), depression (56.3%, 95% CI=50.8%, 61.9%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (22.8%, 95% CI=18.6%, 27.4%), which are significantly associated with exposures to political rights violations (ten to 19 items versus non-exposure: anxiety AOR=16.78, p<0.001, depression AOR=12.52, p<0.001, post-traumatic stress disorder AOR=16.71, p<0.05), and economic rights violations (seven to 13 items versus non-exposure: anxiety AOR=5.68, p<0.001, depression AOR=4.23, p<0.01, post-traumatic stress disorder AOR=5.85, p<0.05). The mean score of social functioning was also lower in those who were exposed to political (adjusted difference= -13.29, p<0.001) and economic rights violations (adjusted difference= -11.20, p<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights mental health consequences of lifelong human rights violations in North Korea. Beyond the conventional approach, it suggests the need for a collaborative preventive response from global health and human rights activists to address human rights in regard to mental health determinants of the 20 million people in North Korea.