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Friday, Dec. 10, 2004

State names hospitals in blood scandal

Participants in hepatitis C-tainted coagulant disaster posted on Web site


Staff writer

The health ministry on Thursday disclosed the names of 6,916 hospitals and 17 medical suppliers believed to have stocked a hepatitis C-tainted blood product that caused one of the largest medical disasters in Japan's postwar history.

The ministry earlier had put the number of such institutions at 7,004, based on reports from Mitsubishi Pharma Corp., the successor to Green Cross Corp., which sold the U.S.-made coagulant known as fibrinogen.

Of the 6,933 groups listed, 6,611 have been contacted by the ministry and reported that they had stocked the coagulant.

Some of the hospitals said they have records of using the product, while others told the ministry they never used it.

The revelation follows a December 2002 information disclosure request by Diet member Satoru Ienishi, a hemophiliac who was infected with both HIV and the hepatitis C virus from tainted blood products.

It is estimated that between 1980 and 2001, 290,000 people were given fibrinogen to treat such conditions as hemophilia. More than 10,000 people are believed to have been infected.

Thursday's announcement caps years of grassroots campaigning by Ienishi and other tainted-blood victims to inform the public of the problem and encourage people who might have been infected to get tested for HCV, which, if left unattended, can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver -- both of which can be fatal.

But recipients of the tainted blood -- many of whom were mothers who received the coagulant to stop bleeding during labor -- and lawyers working on their damage suits nationwide have complained that the disclosure came too late. They said that simply listing the hospitals on the ministry Web site is not enough.

"If the government was really aware that hepatitis is a national disease, it could have taken measures to address it much sooner," Ienishi said.

When the government in 1996 named the hospitals that had stocked HIV-contaminated blood products, it made sure that each hospital sent a notice to all current and former patients to be tested for HIV. Back then, the scandal involved about 2,000 hospitals.

But with infected fibrinogen, more than 25 percent of all medical institutions in Japan carried it at that time.

Naoki Fukuchi, a lawyer working on a damage claim, speculated that the government is reluctant to press the hospitals to notify people individually because of the enormous paperwork and costs involved.

Also, the hepatitis-infected victims are still in the courts, with no out-of-court settlements in the works. In the HIV cases, the mostly hemophiliacs infected by blood products that were not properly heat-sterilized reached damages settlements with the government several months before the hospital names were disclosed.

"While the government might be hesitant to admit it, it seems to be reluctant to take action for fear of having more victims turn up and join the suits," he said. "This is a coverup."

The list of hospitals, including their names, contact information and information on how some of them used fibrinogen, is posted on the ministry's Web site at www.mhlw.go.jp/. The ministry has also set up an information line at 03 (3595) 2297 accessible between 8:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. through Dec. 28.

The lawyers working on the lawsuits against the government and drugmakers have also set up advisory hotlines.

The numbers are 022 (722) 9877 in the Tohoku region; 03 (3358) 2110 in Hokkaido and Kanto; 052 (961) 2091 in Chubu; 06 (6315) 9988 in Kinki, Chugoku and Shikoku, excluding Yamaguchi Prefecture, The number for Yamaguchi Prefecture, the Kyushu region and Okinawa Prefecture is 092 (735) 1195.



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