Hepatitis C victims sue government, drug firms

A group of 16 people who contracted the hepatitis C virus via tainted blood products filed suits Monday against the government and three drug makers that distributed them.

The plaintiffs, who filed the suits at the Tokyo and Osaka district courts, are demanding 902 million yen in compensation.

The three drug makers are Osaka-based Mitsubishi Pharma Corp., one of its subsidiaries and Tokyo-based Nihon Pharmaceutical Co.

According to lawyers of the plaintiffs, 12 of the 16 were given fibrinogen products as hemostatic agents during childbirth, surgery and other procedures. The blood products were manufactured by now-defunct drugmaker Green Cross Corp. Green Cross was absorbed into Mitsubishi Pharma Corp. after several mergers.

The lawyers argue that the government should be held responsible for failing to ban the products, which were not heat-treated and thus carried the virus.

In its investigative report, the ministry effectively denied fault on the part of the government and laid blame on Green Cross.

Green Cross dissolved after it lost a suit to a group of hemophiliacs who were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus by unheated blood products administered during the 1980s. In that 1996 ruling, the government was also held responsible for distributing tainted blood products.

The great majority of HIV-infected hemophiliacs were also infected with HCV through the same transfusions.

Last year, the health ministry released the names of about 800 medical institutions that likely used unheated blood products in the ’70s and ’80s for treatment other than for hemophiliacs and tested about 9,200 people who wished to undergo hepatitis tests.

Roughly 400 of these patients were confirmed to have been treated during this time, about 200 were confirmed to have been infected with the hepatitis C virus at one stage and one in four people were still found to be infected with the virus, according to the test results.