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2011年1月14日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13
EDITORIAL: Hepatitis B infections

The Sapporo District Court has presented a proposed settlement in a case involving people who say they were infected with the hepatitis B virus through the reuse of needles in group vaccinations.

The plaintiffs are all demanding compensation from the government. However, the deliberations over the court's settlement faced complications over the treatment of asymptomatic carriers who are infected but have not developed signs of the illness.

The court's proposal calls for the government to pay 500,000 yen ($6,200) to each sufferer for the cost of past and future medical checkups and transportation expenses.

The plaintiffs have been demanding a settlement of 12 million yen for mental damage suffered when informed of their infection, anxiety over their futures and restrictions on their social lives.

We understand there are people who find the gap between the plaintiffs' demands and the court's proposal unacceptable.

However, the settlement was reached as a result of a compromise following discussions between the patients and the government, with the court acting as a go-between. We support it.

As for the carriers who do not show symptoms, the dominant legal view is that their right to claim compensation expires after 20 years from vaccination.

The practice of reusing needles ended more than 20 years ago.

The plaintiffs argued that the statute of limitations should be 20 years after they learned of their infection, but the court has not accepted this argument.

We know it is not easy to bring together plaintiffs whose ideas and circumstances differ, but we urge the lawyers representing these people to explain the situation in detail and move toward a complete settlement.

Everybody involved in the court process has worked hard to establish that the plaintiffs underwent vaccinations and to assess the amount to be paid to them.

We believe the court's proposal is reasonable in light of a philosophy of trying to provide broad redress.

According to a government estimate, a maximum of 1 trillion yen will be needed over the next five years and 2 trillion yen over the following 25 years to fund this proposed settlement.

Some idea of the scale and spread of the hepatitis B infection can be gained by comparing this estimate to the total annual budget for cutting the proportion of medical expenses paid by people between the ages of 70 and 74 from 20 to 10 percent, which is only about 200 billion yen.

Taxpayers will shoulder this burden. That fact gives us pause, but we have no choice but to brace ourselves and accept it.

Vaccinations were implemented on a virtually mandatory basis to protect society and individual children from infectious diseases.


Any of us could have been infected or seen our loved ones suffer.

We need to squarely face the long-term damage done by these infections with imagination and empathy.

To ensure proper redress, legal measures similar to those applied to hepatitis C will be needed.

The period of needle reuse more or less overlaps with the Liberal Democratic Party's period in power, and has broader implications for public policy.

It raises issues not only about public health but also has to do with the future management of financial affairs.

We urge political parties to transcend their differences and work together on the fundamental issues here.

We must move toward comprehensive hepatitis measures including increasing medical checkups, an effort to grasp the actual spread of the problem and to advance research to stem the development of symptoms.

The fight against this illness, which has been described as a national disease, is a major problem that must be shouldered by the public.


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