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Friday, Dec. 10, 2004

Recipients of tainted blood products begin to fight back

Staff writer

Taking institutions like the central government and big corporations to court is no easy feat for ordinary Japanese citizens. It's even more daunting for mothers busy raising their children and not used to attending the bar.

But this is exactly what some people victimized by the latest form of tainted blood product scandals are doing.

As the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry disclosed the names of 6,933 hospitals and suppliers of hepatitis C virus-tainted coagulant Thursday, many voiced hope that more potential victims of HCV infection would get tested for the virus and start treatment before it's too late. They also pressed for more government support on costly treatments.

"Many people who are unaware of their HCV infection normally don't go to hospitals for testing, because they have suffered a sense of fatigue ever since they gave birth and don't think it's a serious disease," a 54-year-old woman from Kawasaki said on condition of anonymity Thursday.

She was infected with HCV in 1988, when a doctor gave her a shot of fibrinogen to stop her hemorrhaging during labor.

She is among the 76 people, mostly mothers, participating in group lawsuits against the government and drug makers over the distribution of tainted blood products, including fibrinogen. Most plaintiffs keep their names secret, for fear of losing their jobs and voiding insurance policies, as well as relationships.

The mother of two said the disease was a key reason behind her recent divorce, which she blames on her physical inability to work longer hours to support her family.

"I have agonized over the condition alone for 16 years," she said, fighting back tears. "I kept blaming myself for it, not sure why I contracted the virus and speculating that it might be because I gave birth at an older age.

"I want to say out loud to other people like me who are secretly suffering that it's not your fault, it's the problem drug's."

A 42-year-old mother from Chiba Prefecture said she was shocked to realize recently that fibrinogen might not have been even necessary to stop her hemorrhaging during labor.

A friend who had also bled massively during labor and received blood transfusions around the same time was not given the coagulant, sparing her from HCV infection.

"My doctor told me that every obstetrician used fibrinogen back then," she said. "There are definitely more people who got infected like me."

She said her biggest hope is for the ministry to acknowledge its past mistake and do all it can to provide the best treatment to patients. "There is this sense of resignation (among those responsible) that the use of fibrinogen, and the contamination of hepatitis C as a result, could not have been avoided," she said.

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