A cult whose leader – a doctor whose philosophy is “I cure you with laughter” – encourages followers to poke eyes and tongues with needles is the focus of an epidemic of weeping patients in a remote mountain town.
In no time at all, the outbreak, which began on 16 June, has already killed 48 patients and caused the confinement of hundreds more following a purported cure by Kwon Young, the 70-year-old practitioner of eye-opening plastic surgery who hosts the YouTube show Know Your Eyeballs.
On the show, Kwon calls his followers courageous and urges them to help those that need to be healed.
“If someone has an incredible life, don’t worry about finding Jesus, because I can heal you,” he said. “With my medicine, I can completely change the human face and brain in a few months’ time.”
In one episode of the show, a woman diagnosed with cancer began coughing up the spittle from her mouth after jokingly poking her nose with a needle.
One patient suffered a painful, painful gasping as he poked his tongue. “If you continue, it will be miserable. But let me make it easier,” Kwon told him.
The “village healing” practice Kwon popularises follows the Unification medical school, which has branches in South Korea and the US. The trademark routine includes poking the nose, poking the eye, poking the tongue – not to mention dissecting a patient’s eyebrows and finding out why they are shaped that way.
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South Korea’s health ministry said the disease has been reported in Baeho and Kyoung-jae towns in the South Jeolla province, 85 miles north of Seoul. According to the ministry, most of the patients are in their 40s or 50s.
Kwon’s theory has even spread to medical schools. In 2012, the Korea University of Medicine in Seoul started teaching eye-opening treatment in a bid to fill a vacant post, and never stopped after the program expanded.
“We will provide Kwon’s teachings to aspiring surgeons and other medical staff to help them provide in-patient treatment to people who are unable to tolerate ordinary medical services,” an associate professor at the school, Kim Jeong-seok, told the Guardian.
Since becoming president in 2012, Park Geun-hye has proposed measures to end “pathological patients”, including stricter use of bio-medical drugs.