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Friday, April 6, 2012

Private doctors to help ID Minamata victims


KUMAMOTO — A group of doctors will conduct a survey of 1,500 residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures in June to help uncertified Minamata disease victims qualify for state benefits.

The checkups, to be carried out June 24 on the coast of the Yatsushiro Sea in Kyushu, will constitute the largest health survey ever undertaken by private doctors, the group said Wednesday.

The examinations will be carried out before the government's July 31 deadline for uncertified sufferers of the mercury poisoning disease to apply for redress under a special law. The group will check victims in the cities of Minamata and Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture, and Izumi in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Tadashi Fujino, a 69-year-old doctor in the group, said the survey is intended to identify potential Minamata victims that the government has yet to officially recognize.

About 150 doctors will check whether people are suffering from symptoms unique to the disease, such as sensory impairment in the limbs. About 780 people have so far volunteered to undergo checkups, according to the group.

In 2010, the government introduced a compensation package for unrecognized Minamata victims, including a ¥2.1 million lump-sum payment and monthly medical allowances of up to ¥17,700.

Under the law, the state must decide who qualifies for the redress by May 2013, prompting the government to set the July deadline for applications.

The neurological illness, caused by mercury-tainted water released into the sea by a Chisso Corp. chemical plant in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, was officially recognized in May 1956.

More than 50,000 people have applied to receive the compensation package, but the number of recognized patients is only around 3,000, of whom three-quarters have died.

How many people have been affected remains unknown even 56 years after the problem was officially acknowledged, as intensive medical checkups have never been conducted in and around the affected areas.

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