Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announces new certification criteria for A-bomb diseases

by Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

On December 16, the subcommittee on medical care for A-bomb survivors, a body within the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), announced new certification criteria in connection with the seven diseases that are to be promptly certified as A-bomb illnesses. With regard to three of the seven diseases, including myocardial infarction, the condition that these diseases be attributable to radiation (radiation-induced diseases) has been eliminated. At the same time, the condition involving a survivor’s distance from the hypocenter is now stricter, limiting eligibility to those who were exposed to the atomic bomb within about two kilometers from the hypocenter. The revised certification standards will take effect in January of next year.

With respect to the three diseases of myocardial infarction, hypothyroidism, and chronic hepatitis/hepatic cirrhosis, the condition concerning a survivor’s entry into the city has been toughened, and eligibility will be limited to those who entered the city within about one kilometer from the hypocenter on the day of the atomic bombing, or the day after. A stricter standard will also apply to radiation-induced cataracts, limiting eligibility to those who were within about 1.5 kilometers of the hypocenter at the time of the bombing.

Under the current certification system, the seven designated diseases are to be promptly certified if the survivors were exposed to the atomic bombing within about 3.5 kilometers of the hypocenter or if they entered within about two kilometers from the hypocenter within about 100 hours from the time of the A-bomb blast.

For the last three years, however, no one who was at a location 1.6 kilometers or farther has been certified with myocardial infarction, and no one who was 1.4 kilometers or farther has been certified with chronic hepatitis/cirrhosis. The MHLW states: “The new certification policy will promptly certify those who fall under these new criteria, which are now clearer than before.”

With regard to cancer, leukemia, and hyperparathyroidism, the certification standards have not changed, but the wording has been altered to “in principle, certified.” This should not change the actual outcome of applications, though, as nearly all applicants in this category are being certified, with exceptions that do not require medical treatment.

The MHLW states that the number of certified survivors, except for those with cancers and leukemia, will increase to about 4,400 from about 400 as of today. However, Terumi Tanaka, the secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo), doubts this assertion. Nihon Hidankyo has been calling for the government to create a new system to provide suitable allowances to survivors. Mr. Tanaka said, “We need to verify this, but I don’t think the number will increase that much.”

A national commission of experts issued their final report on the A-bomb disease certification system on December 4, proposing that detailed conditions be set for each disease. An association of LDP Diet members also submitted a proposal to the MHLW, similar to the content of the revision.

When the revised certification system was announced, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui commented, “Some progress has been made. I would like to work with the people concerned to make this a system that will support the survivors as they age and suffer illness.”


A-bomb disease certification system
After losing a series of class action lawsuits over the certification of A-bomb diseases, the Japanese government introduced the current certification criteria in April 2008. Applicants suffering from any of the seven designated diseases are promptly certified under such conditions as having been exposed to the atomic bombings within about 3.5 kilometers of the hypocenter. Other applicants are certified after their eligibility is examined by taking all relevant factors into consideration. If certified, a special medical allowance of about 135,000 yen is provided per month. Responding to Nihon Hidankyo’s complaint over the gap between government certifications and judicial rulings concerning these cases, the Japanese government established a special commission of experts in December 2010 to deliberate on this matter. The commission held 26 meetings and then submitted its final report.

(Originally published on December 17, 2013)