Negotiations between the government and hepatitis B sufferers and bereaved families have ground to a standstill. Talks began in May 2010 when the government announced its readiness to engage in negotiations in line with recommendations by the district courts in Sapporo and Fukuoka that the related compensation lawsuits be settled in such a manner. The lawsuits were filed at 10 district courts in and after March 2008.
The infections were mainly caused by mass vaccinations that began being carried out in 1948 under the Preventive Vaccinations Law. It is believed that up to 440,000 people were infected through shared needles.
In the 1960s, the government stepped up research on hepatitis B, but its focus was on prevention of mother-to-child virus transmission and little attention was paid to infection through shared needles. It wasn’t until January 1988 that the health ministry issued instructions mandating a one-use policy for needles and syringes.
In June 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the state to pay five sufferers ¥5.5 million each in compensation in a ruling that declared the central government had failed to order local governments to take preventive steps during mass vaccinations. It was assumed that the ruling would prompt the government to compensate other suffers as well, but the government failed to do so, prompting hepatitis B suffers and bereaved families to file new lawsuits.
The negotiations have been stalled 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 of the statutory limit of 20 years has passed.
The position appears to be based on the June 2006 Supreme Court ruling that the countdown on the statutory limit should start when symptoms first develop.
If this position prevails, people who have suffered from hepatitis B symptoms for 19 years will receive compensation, but those who have suffered for 20 years or longer will get nothing. This is hardly justice being served.
Both the plaintiffs and the government should strive to reach a just settlement without delay.
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