HICARE marks 20th anniversary of medical care for nuclear-affected sufferers

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

The Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed (HICARE), administered mainly by Hiroshima Prefecture and the City of Hiroshima, has marked the 20th anniversary of its founding this month. For the past two decades, HICARE has sought to utilize the accumulated knowledge involving the medical care of A-bomb survivors for the purpose of providing support to nuclear-affected sufferers around the world. While its training program, through which HICARE invites doctors from other nations to Japan, has become well-established, the organization has begun to pursue ways to make a multifaceted contribution.

HICARE was established in April 1991 in the wake of the accident involving the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, located in the former Soviet Union (now, Ukraine). Hiroshima Prefecture and the City of Hiroshima have shared the operating costs and the HICARE office has been maintained in the building housing the Hiroshima Prefectural Government. The organization is composed of the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association, the Hiroshima City Medical Association, Hiroshima University's Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, Hiroshima University Hospital, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, and Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital, among other entities. Hiroo Dohy, president of the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital & Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital, serves as the HICARE president.

HICARE’s efforts are focused on the following three areas: 1) conducting the training program for foreign physicians and other medical personnel, 2) dispatching physicians and other medical experts, and 3) sharing knowledge through symposiums and other events.

To date, HICARE's training program has brought a total of 1,253 doctors and medical experts from 15 nations to Japan. These nations, including South Korea, Belarus, Brazil, Russia, and the United States, provide medical care for nuclear-affected sufferers or for A-bomb survivors residing overseas. During each program session, lasting from periods of five days to two months, trainees are offered extensive instruction in the medical care of nuclear-affected sufferers, from the process of health checkups of A-bomb survivors to the method of diagnosing cancer.

Regarding its dispatch of medical experts within Japan in the event of an emergency, HICARE has responded to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant by dispatching six medical experts as a team of specialists, including a radiological technician and a nurse, to Fukushima Prefecture. This follows a dispatch of experts in response to the criticality accident at the Tokaimura nuclear facility in 1999. As part of the Fukushima mission, the team of experts has been measuring the radiation levels of evacuees. HICARE continues to explore practical efforts to address the nuclear crisis, eying a system of long-term care for workers who become exposed to radiation during the restoration process.

In seeking stronger ties with other international organizations, HICARE has reached out to such entities as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), signing a memorandum last August with the IAEA to engage in people-to-people exchange in the field of medical care for the radiation-exposed.

(Originally published on April 19, 2011)