Bill in works to improve care of hepatitis patients

Kyodo News

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc has drawn up a bill to improve relief for hepatitis patients, including measures to subsidize treatment costs and to upgrade hospitals, coalition sources said Thursday.

The move comes amid growing criticism of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s faulty handling of cases of people infected with the hepatitis C virus who had been treated with tainted blood products that had been approved by the ministry.

More than 3 million people are estimated to be infected with hepatitis in Japan.

By taking necessary measures under a new law, the coalition hopes to cultivate an atmosphere conducive to dealing with a disease regarded as one of the leading maladies in Japan along with cancer, the sources said.

The ruling camp hopes to submit the bill to the ongoing Diet session with the goal of having it take effect by April.

The envisioned hepatitis countermeasures law would strive to improve the quality of medical examinations, educate hepatitis experts and upgrade hospitals that serve as bases for treatment, according to the sources.

The bill’s other main features include economic aid to hepatitis patients to help cover the cost of treatment, promotion of research into the disease, fast-track approval of drugs and raising awareness of infection prevention.

According to the sources, the ruling bloc aims to ensure diagnosis at an early stage and improve the level of treatment, bearing in mind that hepatitis, if neglected, becomes chronic and critical.

The bill thus obliges the state to draw up basic countermeasures and to form a health ministry panel that includes hepatitis patients, their families and the next of kin of those who have died, to create these guidelines.

The bill does not specifically detail the envisioned economic aid. The coalition plans to create an in-house project team led by former health minister Jiro Kawasaki to study how to ease the patients’ burdens.