Japan: The battle of HCV victims

Stories about tainted blood products are nothing new in Japan. In the 1980s, patients with hemophilia contracted HIV from tainted blood products, the result negligence on the part of the government and pharmaceutical companies about an earlier FDA decision to withdraw its approval of the products.

In 1987, pregnant women in Aomori who were given fibrinogen — for which, again, the FDA had withdrawn its approval in 1977 — were found to be infected with hepatitis C, bringing public attention to the issue of HCV infections contracted via tainted blood product. Between 1969 and 1994, HCV infections spread among those who underwent surgery and childbirth and remained unnoticed for decades.

The Green Cross Corporation (now Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation) was involved in both cases, and as vcccttea writes:


The Green Cross Corporation was founded by Naito Ryoichi (former-lieutenant colonel), a member of Unit 731 of the Kwantung Army, as a private blood bank shortly after the war. Many of its members and executives were former Unit 731 officials and the company had numerous cases of medication-related health disasters including HIV-tainted blood. And this time, hepatitis infections.

In 2002, hepatitis C patients who contracted the disease through the use of tainted blood products filed lawsuits against the government and the parmaceutical companies in Tokyo and Osaka. In the following year, similar lawsuits were filed in Fukuoka, Nagoya and Sendai. Four courts ruled that the state and the pharmaceutical compnaies are responsible for the HCV infections, but the Sendai Court denied the state's responsibility. Earlier this month, the Osaka Court suggested mediation through which plaintiffs who contracted HCV via tainted blood products between 1986 and 1988 could be compensated, setting a deadline for the government on December 20.

Kawada in front of Health Ministry
Kawada Ryuhei, parliamentarian and former member of HIV plaintiff, in front of the health ministry on December 19, 2007

Fukuda Eriko, one of the Fukukoka plaintiffs, expressed her frustration with the government proposal following the Osaka court ruling in her blog:


Absolutely unacceptable.
We have been saying that we are not fighting only for the plaintiffs.


Regardless of when they were shot [the drugs] and which kind, or whether they are plaintiffs or not, and although they have no faults, the victims contracted hepatitis, their health is impaired, and important people and family around them also have had to go through difficult times. Their lives have been damaged.
They should be all equally given relief.


Moreover, the Prime Minister must have thought we would accept the proposal.
“I would like to have a look at the settlement proposal issued on (December) 13th and consider it”, he said.
But the proposal had already been passed on [to him].
I cannot tolerate that he was thinking that we would accept the proposal which was to only give relief to the plaintiffs.
They are trying to neglect some of the victims and be done with it.

Protesters at health ministry
Supporters protesting in front of the health ministry

The scandal has draw significant attention from the media and the public. Kokoro of wanbalance writes:


Because the state continued to approve such terrible drugs, it is for the state to compensate. That is not the only problem. The problem is that they are not charged with the crime they committed and easily get away with it. Who on earth was it that decided to continue [to sell the drug] at the crucial time? Is this the same structure of corruption as in the case of the Defense Ministry? Otherwise, doesn't it mean that the whole thing happen because there was a corrupt act between the company — who continued selling drug which they knew had already been found dangerous and discontinued in the U.S. — and the state bureaucrats?

Another blogger pochi refers to two newspaper articles, one[ja] about compensation for the HCV victims and another[ja] about an 800 billion yen missile defense.


So then, is 180 billion yen or 570 billion yen that big an amount?
Compare the two articles above.
On one hand, they are talking about a plan to spend 800 billion to 1 trillion yen in the next 5 years, and the amount could double or it could go up even higher… And, “there is a possibility that it could be useless” as a result… phew…
And on the other hand, the 1800 billion or 5700 billion yen is the money that should be paid to people who have no fault but are suffering the damage done by the state and the pharmaceutical company.



I want to ask everyone again.
Is 180 billion or 5700 billion yen too large an amount of money?
Is it necessary to “draw a line” among the people to be compensated?

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