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Fukushima Pref. to end maternal health survey as no effects of radiation found

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Officials of Fukushima Medical University instruct a resident on how to fill in a questionnaire sheet for the health survey of prefectural residents at the Fukushima city government office in November 2012.

The Yomiuri Shimbun The Fukushima prefectural government decided to end in fiscal 2020 its health survey of expectant and nursing mothers, which began in the wake of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At the end of that fiscal year, ten years will have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the start of the nuclear disaster.

In past survey results, the percentages of birth defects, babies with low birth weights and other abnormal conditions have been almost the same in the prefecture as the nationwide average.

Therefore, the prefectural government judged that there have not been any remarkable negative effects feared to be caused by radioactive substances discharged by the nuclear accident on the health of mothers and children.

From now on, the prefectural government aims to place more importance on assistance based on the needs of expectant and nursing mothers.

The maternal health survey is one of a number of surveys that the prefectural government commissions from Fukushima Medical University to check on the condition of local residents’ health in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

Another of the surveys has been conducted mainly on residents who were 18 or younger when the nuclear accident happened to check whether they have developed thyroid cancer.

The prefectural government presented a plan to its examination committee to discontinue the survey of mothers in July, and the plan was approved.

The survey of expectant and nursing mothers has been conducted every year since fiscal 2011 by sending questionnaire sheets to about 15,000 people, mainly women in the prefecture who had become pregnant and received maternal and child health handbooks.

The survey asks questions about such things as the number of weeks until delivery, the baby’s weight, the mother’s mental health care, the care they have received during pregnancy and delivery, and the circumstance in which they are raising their children.

In the fiscal 2011 survey, just after the nuclear accident, the percentage of birth defects was 2.85 percent. This was almost the same as the nationwide average of about 3 percent. Responses to that survey were received from 9,316 people, or 58.2 percent.

In the latest fiscal 2017 survey — to which 6,449 people, or 47.6 percent, responded — the percentage of birth defects was 2.38 percent.

The percentage of premature births in the prefecture in fiscal 2017 was 5.4 percent, and the national average was 5.6 percent.

The percentage of newborn babies with low weights — under 2,500 grams — in the prefecture was 9.4 percent, and the national average was also 9.4 percent.

All figures were on almost the same level as the national figures.

Meanwhile, the percentage of mothers in the prefecture who were diagnosed as tending toward postpartum depression was 27.1 percent in fiscal 2011 and 20.7 percent in fiscal 2017.

Though the percentage has declined, one out of five mothers in the prefecture replied in the latest survey that they feel depressed or they feel gloomy.

An official of the prefectural government said, “Soon after the nuclear accident, mothers’ anxiety was severe, but the needs of expectant and nursing mothers have been changing. We shall improve consultation systems in cooperation with municipal governments, so that assistance can reach the people who need it.”

Concerning the relationship between pregnancy and radioactive rays, there was a report that the percentages of some types of birth defects, such as microcephaly, rose in the wake of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986.

But in the case of the Fukushima nuclear accident, the situation is somewhat different. For example, affected residents evacuated earlier and were exposed to lower doses of radioactive rays than those in the Chernobyl accident. Thus experts say that the two cases cannot easily be compared.

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