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Making a business with cancer

An opinion article by Dr. Alex Rosen

Thyorid screening, Photo: Ian Thomas Ash

How a society deals with the victims of a catastrophe tells you more about it than statistical data like its GDP or its unemployment rates. Since 2011, Fukushima Medical University regularly examines the thyroids of all inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture, who were below 18 years of age at the time of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in order to detect cancer or precancerous lesions in time. While the costs for patients under the age of 18 are generally covered by the state, families have to pay doctor fees in advance and only get reimbursed after a certain delay. Furthermore, the Japanese health system generally requires patients older than 18 to pay 30% of all medical costs themselves. This also applies for thyroid exams for people who were exposed to radioactive fallout, as well as for potentially necessary biopsies, surgical operations or long-term therapies.

For a thyroid exam, a patient has to pay about 10,000 Yen (appr. €87), for an operation between 150,000 and 300,000 Yen (between €1,300 and €2,600).

For many families who are already hit very hard by evacuations and the loss of their hometown and workplace, these costs may not be economically viable and exacerbate the social downward spiral of debt and poverty, which many are experiencing.

Considering that Japanese authorities deliberately decided against the distribution of stable iodine tablets, exposing millions of people to radioactive iodine, Fukushima Prefecture began to reimburse at least the costs for thyroid exams to patients now above the age of 18.

These reimbursements still take time, however, and families have to pay the initial costs upfront. Furthermore, reimbursementss are only possible for patients who receive their examinations in institutions associated with  Fukushima Medical University.

Any type of secondary opinion outside of the university system therefore leads to additional financial strains for the families. In addition, costs for transportation to the examinations or compensation for income loss of the parents are not taken into account.

Because these expenses and the complicated reimbursement procedure still raise major problems for affected families, a non-profit NGO was recently founded. The „3/11 Children´s Fund for Thyroid Cancer“ wants to assist needy families in Fukushima by covering costs for exams and treatments, as well as additional expenses.

Donations from the public are being solicited and the organization hopes to support several hundred affected people with amounts beginning at 50,000 Yen (appr. €430).

How a society deals with the victims of a catastrophe tells you more about it than statistical data like its GDP or its unemployment rates.
After the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, the investigative committee of the Japanese parliament came to the conclusion that the nuclear disaster was „man made“ and that the nuclear industry, the regulatory bodies and the political leadership all ignored the risks of nuclear energy and the widespread corruption in the Japanese nuclear industry and carry a substantial part of the responsibility for the nuclear catastrophe. In light of this institutional failure of the Japanese authorities and the continuing attempts to conceal the true extent of the nuclear disaster, it is particularly bitter that the families affected by radioactive fallout, who have an increased risk for cancer and other radiation-induced diseases, are left alone with the financial burdens of their medical bills.

It is not acceptable that one of the wealthiest countries, with one of the most advanced health care systems in the world, forces the victims of government failure to be dependent on charitable donations and the commitment of some volunteers. A sensible assessment of the ecological, medical, psychological, social and economic consequences of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan is a matter of urgency. Finally, the victims of the nuclear disaster and radioactive contamination have to receive adequate protection, care and support from authorities.

More information:

Fund started to help Fukushima thyroid cancer patients cover expenses:

www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/09/09/national/fund-started-help-fukushima-thyroid-cancer-patients-cover-expenses/
 

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