Justice at last for victims of contaminated blood scandal

Japan's Supreme Court this week upheld a suspended prison sentence for a former health ministry official convicted for failing to prevent the use of HIV-contaminated blood products in the mid 1980s, according to Kyodo and Bloomberg.

This is the first time in 25 years that a Japanese government official has been held criminally responsible for administrative negligence. The Tokyo District Court issued a one-year suspended prison sentence for Akihito Matsumura in 2001, a decision upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 2005, Kyodo said. The courts ruled Matsumura caused the death of a liver disease patient in 1995 by failing to stop the use of contaminated blood products.

In Japan, the contaminated blood products infected 1,430 people with HIV between the late 1970s and 1986. More than 500 of them have died. Green Cross Corp., a Japanese drug company used blood products imported from the United States, collected from needle-drug users and federal prisoners in Arkansas. Bayer, the German drug company, stopped sales of the drugs in the United States in 1984, but did not stop sales of the contaminated products in Japan until a year later.

The people responsible at the US Food & Drug Administration have not been brought to justice (nor have they apologized) according to Wikipedia and other sources.

There is nothing green about Green Cross Corp. The company is now a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Takeda Pharma Corp., the Osaka-based company that also makes food additives, pesticides and various veterinary drugs. As Sheldon Harris noted in 1999 in his essay about Japanese Medical Atrocities in WWII, Green Cross Corp was founded by war criminals, such as Naito Ryoichi and Kitano Masaji. The link to the contaminated blood was not lost on prof. Harris:

The callousness shown by these scholars and physicians is best illustrated by what is known as The Green Cross scandal. Nearly 1500 Japanese, principally hemophiliacs, were given unsterilized blood that contained the HIV virus in the mid-1980s. Much of this contaminated blood was supplied by the Green Cross Company, although it had been warned of the danger of using unsterilized blood. Putting profits ahead of safety and concern for the ill, Green Cross officials, in collusion with members of the Ministry of Health, continued to provide patients with contaminated blood. Nearly 500 individuals thus far have died of HIV complications due to having received infected blood. In February 2000, in a landmark decision in Japan, several Green Cross officials were sentenced to prison for their crimes. The company has since been absorbed by another Japanese pharmaceutical company. However, hundreds of lawsuits are pending in Japanese courts against the late Green Cross Company and its successor. The silence of the Japanese Government concerning this crime and other notorious medical crimes is deafening.

So, how did contaminated blood get into medical products? The documentary "Factor 8 uses in-depth interviews and key documents as well as never-before-seen footage, to allege wrongdoing at the Arkansas state government under Governor Bill Clinton's leadership, and at the United States federal level", showing how blood was sold by blood companies for millions of dollars and shipped around the world.

Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal is a very, very disturbing, award-winning film by Kelly Duda.

Update: I should mention that Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has offered an official apology to plaintiffs who sued the state and drug makers over their infection of hepatitis C through tainted blood products. He also apologized for the government's delay in helping them:

"(We) have caused you great hardship both mentally and physically for a long time," Fukuda told the group at the Prime Minister's Official Residence. "I take this opportunity to offer a heart-felt apology."

Health minister Yoichi Masuzoe also admitted that the government is responsible for having caused this scandal stemming from tainted blood products "and must reflect on its actions."

Asahi: Fukuda offers apology to hepatitis C patients

Photo showing Michiko Yamaguchi protesting outside Mitsubishi Pharma's offices in Tokyo from The Japan Times: Blood battle is about the past and future

(Haemophilia is a genetic condition which prevents blood clotting, while hepatitis C can result in cirrhosis (fibrotic scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.)



Pandabonium said…
Sometimes, "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it.
Martin J Frid said…

This was not an easy blog entry to write, trying to imagine the feelings of thousands of people who got all kinds of horrible diseases from the contaminated blood.

And I'm surprised how quiet the blogging community has been with regards to this issue.

Let me just say I'm glad Prime Minister Fukuda offered a heart-felt apology.

Beacuse it does matter.

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