A comprehensive bill to support people with hepatitis B and C, along with an attached statement recognizing the government’s liability in spreading infections via tainted blood products, cleared the Diet on Monday.
The Upper House passed the lawmaker-sponsored bill even though the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, is boycotting Diet proceedings and thus abstained from voting, even though the LDP put the bill in motion when it was still in power.
The law, to be enacted Jan. 1, will promote research for treatment of hepatitis as well as provide financial support for patients.
“Our party members are very satisfied with the passage of the law,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, said during a meeting with hepatitis patients after the vote. “But this is not the end of the issue,” he added, pledging the government will seek to ensure sufficient funding for related projects.
DPJ lawmaker Eriko Fukuda, who had led a group of hepatitis C patients in a lawsuit against the government, thanked Hatoyama in person for the bill’s quick passage.
“I am thankful that the government has kept its promise,” Fukuda, who won her first seat in the August general election, told reporters. She called the law “hope” for all those infected with hepatitis, adding the Diet must now focus on fine-tuning the law’s details.
“The bill cleared the Diet thanks to the support of many lawmakers. I am very grateful for the Cabinet members involved,” Fukuda said.
There are an estimated 3.5 million hepatitis B and C patients in Japan, many of whom were infected by the virus through unheated blood products. Hepatitis C patients have filed and won lawsuits against both the government and pharmaceutical companies, with courts ruling that defendants failed to restrict the distribution of coagulants even after they were banned in the U.S. in 1977.
The blood products were commonly used in the 1970s by obstetricians, gynecologists and surgeons to treat hemophilia or to stop hemorrhaging during childbirth or surgery.
In addition to being held liable by the court for not regulating the use of unheated coagulants despite being aware of its dangers, hepatitis B patients are also involved in ongoing lawsuits against the government, claiming they were infected during official vaccination campaigns that involved shared needles.
Hepatitis B and C patients face the danger of liver damage, with symptoms including fatigue and nausea.
Carriers can also develop chronic hepatitis, which can eventually trigger liver cancer.
Loan law is passed
The Diet on Monday passed a law on a conditional moratorium on loan repayments by small businesses.
The law, enacted as temporary legislation through March 2011, is designed to encourage banks and other financial institutions to ease repayment terms for smaller companies if asked to do so.