June 29(Wednesday)

Hepatitis B situation not yet settled


Yesterday at the Prime Minister's Office, I met with members of a plaintiffs group in lawsuits connected to hepatitis B contraction and I apologized to them on behalf of the government. I heard stories from several patients directly, who spoke of the heartbreak resulting from mother-to-child transmission, the discrimination they had faced in various ways, and so on.


Fifteen years ago, at the time of the issue of AIDS contracted through contaminated blood products, I also apologized to patients as Minister of Health and Welfare. As hepatitis B infection spread as a result of the government not regulating for many years the reuse of vaccination syringes, it has a different cause than that of AIDS contracted through contaminated blood products, but, as the person responsible for the government, the fact that this situation was not avoided makes it a most extremely regrettable matter.


In the case of AIDS caused by contaminated blood products, at the time that the settlement was reached, groundbreaking new drugs that help protect against the onset of the disease were developed, greatly decreasing the number of people dying.  At yesterday's meeting as well, I received a strong request from the Hiroshima plaintiffs group for research and development of therapeutic drugs to delay or prevent the onset of hepatitis B.  Immediately there at the venue, I strongly instructed the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare to take up this matter.


Of course it is impossible to say that a settlement has been reached simply through the signing of a Letter of Understanding for the settling of the lawsuits.  When I said yesterday "we are still standing at the starting line for resolving this issue," several of the people sitting in the patients' seats nodded their heads.  Starting today, it is the duty of the government to demonstrate these words through concrete actions.


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