Despite two recent landmark court rulings awarding damages to people who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood products, the battle over blood is far from over.
An inmate donates blood in 1989 at Cummins Unit in the Arkansas prison system in this still image from
the U.S. documentary “Factor 8.” –
On Tuesday, 17 of the 18 plaintiffs who had sued the government, Mitsubishi Pharma Corp. and its subsidiary Benesis Corp. filed an appeal of the Fukuoka District Court decision of late August that ordered the defendants to pay a combined 168 million yen in damages to only 11 of the 18 plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs said they will keep fighting until all of them get damages.
The Osaka District Court in June was the first court in the country to award damages to people who got the hepatitis C virus (HCV) after receiving blood products.
More lawsuits are pending in Tokyo, Sendai and Nagoya.
Michiko Yamaguchi, one of the Fukuoka plaintiffs who was given an HCV-tainted coagulant, fibrinogen, while giving birth to her second child, said that more than anything it was the unrepentant, unapologetic attitude of government officials that hurt the plaintiffs.
“Three of the (128) plaintiffs (nationwide) have died so far,” Yamaguchi said. “Another victim who has cirrhosis told us recently that she wants to drop out of the legal battle, saying she would rather spend the last of her time with her family.”
She said the plaintiffs were infuriated when after the August ruling, health minister Jiro Kawasaki refused to meet with them.
The lawsuits here are just a small part of a global outcry over tainted blood.
The Canadian government in July announced a $875 million compensation package for thousands of people who were infected with HCV from tainted blood products.
U.S. filmmaker Kelly Duda, who helped unearth evidence for the Canadian victims, said the attitude of U.S. drug regulators has not changed, which makes it possible for another tainted blood scandal to happen.
Last year, Duda released “Factor 8,” a documentary about a blood plasma program at Cummins Unit of the Arkansas prison system. Inmates there, some with HCV and HIV, sold their blood from the 1960s through 1994, resulting in the infection of tens of thousands of people around the world, including recipients in Japan, Canada and Europe.
For the film, which has not been shown in Japan, Duda interviewed about 200 people, including inmates, correction officials and officials of businesses that had contracts with the prison to handle the plasma.
In a recent phone interview, Duda said a recent recommendation by the U.S. Institute of Medicine that the U.S. government resume pharmaceutical testing of prison inmates was a warning sign that the prison blood trade might be revived.
“Will they at some time decide they can also take blood?” Duda asked.
“There will always be new contaminants in the blood supply. . . . The mentality (of drug regulators) have historically adopted is to wait till (a blood product) kills somebody before we make any changes. . . . So the attitude has to change. This is not a story of the past, because we haven’t learned from our mistakes yet.”
Satoru Ienishi, an Upper House member who has campaigned for drug safety, agrees.
Ienishi, a hemophiliac who was infected with HIV and HCV from tainted blood products, is dealing with tainted blood from another source — cows. He says the government is taking a haphazard approach in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.
A number of cosmetics and medical products sold in Japan, including drugs to treat rheumatism and leukemia, are made from cow blood and other parts, according to Japanese health officials.
Ienishi said Tokyo should inspect U.S. dairy farms that provide parts from cows to make drugs since the issue of whether U.S. cows are safe has become a contentious one in Japan since Tokyo first banned American beef imports in 2003.
“Bureaucrats say such (cosmetic and medical) products are safe because they are not made from humans,” Ienishi said. “But when I pressed them further for proof of their safety, they said they don’t know, because they are made by American companies. . . . I personally think we will have another scandal.”
A health ministry official said the ministry makes on-site inspections of manufacturers of medical products made with cow parts.
However, the official said it was unrealistic for the government to try to trace the origin of product contents all the way back to the slaughterhouse, “in light of the complex distribution channels today.”
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