The World Health Organisation (WHO) has strongly criticised a report by the campaign group Amnesty International which condemns North Korea's health system.
WHO director-general Margaret Chan says the report doesn't take into account recent progress in the country, the BBC reports.
The organisation contends the Amnesty report is based on a small number of interviews with people who have left North Korea, some as long ago as 2001.
The human rights group's report, based on interviews with North Korean defectors and health professionals who work with North Koreans, described barely functioning hospitals, poor hygiene and epidemics made worse by widespread malnutrition.
It said North Korea was failing to meet even the most basic health needs of its people, many of whom were also too poor to pay for treatment.
The WHO points out that among the improvements North Korea has made is the introduction of a $US30 million mother and child health programme, funded by South Korea.
While the organisation admits great challenges remain in North Korea, a spokesperson says improving health for people there will not be achieved by turning the issue into a political football.
North Korea spends less than $US1 per person per year on healthcare, World Health Organization figures show.