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Dig deeper to identify all people deserving relief under hepatitis law

The Yomiuri Shimbun A large number of people likely remain unaware that they were administered contaminated blood products that left them infected with hepatitis.

The period during which people can claim welfare benefits after having contracted hepatitis C through blood products such as the hemostatic agent fibrinogen used during childbirth or surgery has been extended by five years. This extension was approved through a revised law offering blanket relief to people who became infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood products, which was passed during the previous extraordinary Diet session.

This is the second such extension, following one in 2012. More than 10,000 people are thought to have contracted hepatitis, but so far only about 2,300 have received relief under the law. To ensure this second extension is truly meaningful, the government must step up efforts to uncover each and every victim.

The relief law was enacted in 2008 as lawmaker-initiated legislation. This step was taken following a string of victories by plaintiffs in cases filed by hepatitis patients against the central government and pharmaceutical companies. The law clarified the government’s responsibility for failing to prevent the damage from spreading and promised “full redress” for the victims.

If medical treatment records or statements by a doctor can prove a patient was administered fibrinogen, they will be paid up to ¥40 million, depending on their symptoms.

However, investigations conducted by medical institutions that store such medical records are progressing at a snail’s pace. Many facilities have not even started this verification work.

Govt must bear responsibility

Fibrinogen is estimated to have been administered to more than 280,000 people, mainly in the 1980s. Given the massive volume of data involved in this matter, it is a fact that leaving this investigation entirely to medical institutions has its limits.

The most effective and certain method would be for medical institutions to confirm, after receiving an inquiry from a patient, whether fibrinogen was administered to them.

Many mothers given fibrinogen are now aged in their 50s or 60s. Because people with hepatitis C often have no noticeable symptoms, there are concerns their disease might have progressed to cirrhosis or liver cancer without the person noticing.

Get a hepatitis check as soon as possible. If a hepatitis infection is confirmed, make inquiries at any medical facility where one consulted a doctor previously. This process needs to become entrenched so victims can be identified and treatment can begin quickly. The government should actively call for people to see a doctor to check for hepatitis infection.

In many cases, medical records have been discarded or hospitals have closed, meaning no doctors are able to provide statements to support patients. The hurdles to proving one’s status as an eligible hepatitis patient are high, but some people may be able to receive relief based on evidence such as delivery records for blood products.

Many people also became infected with hepatitis B as a result of systematic sharing of needles in mass vaccination programs for infants. Lawsuits demanding benefits for these victims are continuing in courts across the nation.

The spread of viral hepatitis was the result of errors in the past administration of blood related treatments. The government must not forget that it has a duty to provide relief to the victims.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 31, 2017)Speech



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