Hospitals tied to HCV fiasco to be mostly named before ’05

by Tomoko Otake

The health ministry said Thursday it will disclose the names of all 7,004 hospitals believed to have stocked blood products contaminated with the hepatitis C virus — but not until year’s end.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said it will order Mitsubishi Pharma Corp., the successor to Green Cross Corp., to submit a list of the names of 7,004 institutions to which it sold fibrinogen.

The ministry will make the data public by the end of December as it will take time to confirm the contents of the list, ministry officials said.

It has been claimed that more than 10,000 people have been infected with HCV through the use of fibrinogen, a blood product used to treat hemophilia and for a broad range of surgical purposes.

The ministry’s decision comes after a Cabinet Office appeals panel on information disclosure ordered the ministry in February to provide data on 469 of the 7,004 hospitals that had stocked HCV-contaminated blood products.

The request was filed in December 2002 by former Diet member Satoru Ienishi, a hemophiliac who became infected with HIV and hepatitis C via tainted blood products.

Ienishi waged a dogged fight to make the government accountable for the use of HIV-tainted blood products and is battling again over hepatitis C contamination.

Because information disclosure laws apply only to documents owned by the government, Ienishi’s information disclosure request covered only 469 hospitals whose names the ministry has.

Regarding Ienishi’s request, however, the ministry told him and his lawyers Thursday it will postpone the disclosure of information on the 469 hospitals, the officials said.

The officials said 27 hospitals objected to having their names disclosed, saying they were concerned that that disclosure would damage their reputations or that they have already discarded the products in question.

The ministry will again consult the Cabinet Office panel over the matter, they said.

The panel handles information disclosure requests, in line with proceedings set forth by laws.

Ienishi voiced outrage at the ministry’s decision.

“For those infected with HCV (and not aware of their disease), each day gone means a day of treatment opportunities lost,” Ienishi said.

“Why wouldn’t the ministry go ahead with the disclosure of the nearly 450 hospitals that didn’t object to disclosure? Which side is the ministry on, the hospitals/drugmakers’ or the public’s?”