Hepatitis B sufferers and bereaved families who had filed lawsuits at 10 district courts in and after March 2008 for state compensation are holding negotiations with the government for a settlement. But the progress of the talks mediated by courts is hampered by the government’s position that people who have suffered from hepatitis B symptoms for more than 20 years as a result of mass vaccinations have no right to claim compensation because the statutory limit of 20 years has passed.

According to the health and welfare ministry, 1.1 million to 1.4 million people are infected with hepatitis B virus, with 90 percent of them not yet having developed symptoms. Up to 440,000 carriers are believed to have been infected through shared needles during mass vaccinations carried out since 1948 under the Preventive Vaccination Law. Only in January 1988 did the ministry issue instructions mandating a one-use policy for needles and syringes.

Under the terms of the negotiations, deceased patients and sufferers of liver cancer or serious cirrhosis would receive ¥36 million, sufferers of a mild case of cirrhosis ¥25 million and sufferers of chronic hepatitis B ¥12.5 million. A carrier without symptoms would receive ¥500,000 as “reconciliation money.”

A June 2006 Supreme Court ruling said that the state was responsible for causing hepatitis B infection because of its failure to order local governments to take preventive steps during mass vaccinations such as not reusing needles. The top court ordered the state to pay ¥5.5 million each in compensation to five sufferers.

The government says that it has a separate plan to take some relief measures for people who have suffered from hepatitis B symptoms for more than 20 years. But excluding them from compensation under the court-mediated settlement would be far from an equitable solution. The government estimates that the settlement would cost ¥3.2 trillion over 30 years. This is an enormous amount. It should seek a fair way of raising the necessary funds as part of its social welfare policy.

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