Medical support to Kazakh radiation victims strengthens bond between Hiroshima and Kazakhstan

by Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer

The city of Hiroshima suffered an atomic bombing, while the country of Kazakhstan is home to a large number of radiation victims as a result of more than 450 nuclear tests. The bond between these two nuclear-troubled locations is now being strengthened, year after year, by a group of Hiroshima citizens who have provided support to the radiation sufferers of Kazakhstan for over ten years. The Chugoku Shimbun looks at the efforts made by doctors and young people from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima who paid a visit to Kazakhstan over the summer.

Support from Hiroshima group since 1999

A Hiroshima-based citizens’ group called the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project, or “Hirosemi,” is working to provide medical assistance from the A-bombed city. This past summer, the group presented Semey State Medical University with an ultrasonograph machine to examine cases of thyroid cancer and breast cancer, illnesses faced by a number of radiation victims. A doctor at the university, formerly known as Semey Medical Academy and located in the city of Semey [the new name for the city of Semipalatinsk], said, “We intend to use this equipment for the sake of the radiation sufferers.”

The Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project launched its medical support efforts in 1999, at a time when Kazakhstan was experiencing financial difficulties following its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

The group’s first action involved donating a van that could travel to villages in the vicinity of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site to provide medical examinations to local residents. Since then, nearly every year, they have donated medical equipment, including ultrasonographs and related devices, as well as medications for lowering blood pressure and addressing other conditions. From 1999 to 2010, Hiroshima doctors paid visits to the area to check the thyroid glands of those who had been exposed to radiation, whether or not they were suffering some abnormality. The doctors made efforts to raise the level of medical expertise there as well. Local residents reportedly put great faith in the Japanese doctors who have come on a regular basis to perform examinations and the staff at hospitals and facilities in the villages are grateful for the donations of medical equipment.

To date, the medical support provided by the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project, which includes purchases of supplies and dispatches of doctors, totals more than 50 million yen (about 625,000 U.S. dollars). These funds have been obtained through donations from peace groups and other sources.

“Medical conditions there have improved significantly since the time we began our work,” said Chieko Kobatake, 60, the deputy director of the group. She added, “We hope to continue enhancing the expertise of Kazakh doctors through their interactions with doctors and researchers from Hiroshima.”

Major medical assistance (total exceeds 50 million yen)

7 ultrasonographs
Devices for the ultrasonographs
2 microscopes
A van for medical examinations
Surgical instruments
Medical supplies
Dispatched doctors

Two Kazakh students serve as a bridge between Kazakhstan and Hiroshima

“We want to become a bridge linking Kazakhstan and Hiroshima to help appeal for the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said one of the former students from Kazakhstan who had spent time in Hiroshima as a high school student. The Kazakh students have been lending their support to the efforts made by citizens’ groups and youth groups from Hiroshima, including the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project.

The two student supporters are Aidana Assykpayeva, 18, who returned to the city of Semey this past March and Nurdana Adylkhanova, 17, who came back to Kazakhstan in the spring of 2011. The pair helped the Hiroshima-based youth group called CANVaS, by serving as interpreters, when the group visited Kazakhstan over the summer.

In addition to their native Kazakh, both Aidana and Nurdana can communicate in Russian, a language often used in Kazakhstan. They are active as local guides and interpreters, conveying the stories of radiation sufferers and doctors, as well as organizers of exchange programs with local youth.

In September, Aidana entered the faculty of international relations at Eurasian National University in the city of Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. “My dream,” she said, “is to become a diplomat and then serve as the Kazakh Ambassador to Japan.” She often thinks of her late aunt, who died at just 16 years of age from leukemia, a consequence of the nuclear testing. “I plan to tell the whole world about the damage caused by the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan and by the atomic bombing in Hiroshima to help create a world without nuclear weapons,” she said firmly.

Nurdana will graduate from high school next May. She hopes to study sociology at university, saying, “I would like to do work that communicates the importance of peace so the tragedies caused by nuclear weapons will not be repeated.”

Aidana and Nurdana were both exchange students at Sanyo Girls’ Senior High School in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. Working with the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project, the school has been accepting high school students from Semey since the year 2000. Each year one or two students from Kazakhstan come to Japan and study at the school for one year. To date, a total of 19 Kazakh students have studied, or are currently studying, at the school. While the school shoulders the costs of their tuition and accommodations, the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project covers their travel expenses. After returning to Kazakhstan, the former exchange students pursue various paths, such as studying to become a doctor or studying abroad again. Though their paths diverge, many of them continue to think of Hiroshima after leaving the A-bombed city and lend their support to the activities conducted by the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project, said a member of that group.

Hiroshima doctors and researchers share their expertise in Kazakhstan

“This is a safe, reliable method that every surgeon can perform,” said the doctor from Hiroshima, projecting slides of a thyroid gland operation on the screen. About 40 medical students, interns, and other participants listened intently to the doctor’s lecture, their eyes fixed on the slides.

Nobuo Takeichi, 68, was speaking at Semey State Medical University, located in the heart of Semey. Dr. Takeichi runs a thyroid clinic in Minami Ward, Hiroshima. Making use of his experience providing medical care for A-bomb survivors in Japan, he outlined surgical techniques for thyroid cancer, among other matters, in English.

Dr. Takeichi’s talk was one of the intensive lectures, the first of their kind, offered by two doctors and a radiation researcher from Hiroshima. In addition to Dr. Takeichi, Yoshihiro Noso and Masaharu Hoshi also shared their expertise. Dr. Noso, 62, is a professor of oncology surgery in the faculty of medicine at Shiname University. He is a graduate of Hiroshima University and has experience treating A-bomb survivors. Dr. Hoshi, 64, is a professor emeritus at Hiroshima University in the field of radiation biology and physics. Starting from the end of August, the three men delivered a total of 12 lectures, each 90 minutes long, over four days. The themes they covered were wide-ranging and included methods of medical treatment for diseases involving the thyroid gland, colon cancer, and breast cancer, which are often found in the Kazakh radiation sufferers; basic background knowledge of radiation; and the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.

Dr. Takeichi and Dr. Noso have been providing medical examinations for the radiation sufferers of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site for some time. Dr. Hoshi has conducted research on the soil and other elements contaminated by radiation in the vicinity near the test site.

Yerkebulan Yesbolatov, 21, a fourth-year student at the medical university, listened closely to Dr. Takeichi’s lecture, and commented, “I would like to apply the research findings made by Hiroshima doctors and others to the medical care for the radiation sufferers in Kazakhstan.” Appearing pleased, Dr. Takeichi said, “I believe these lectures offered a good opportunity to learn from the expertise accumulated by doctors and researchers in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima.”

The medical support being provided to Kazakhstan has reached the stage where those from Hiroshima are able to help nurture the expertise of young Kazakh doctors by applying the knowledge and perspective of the A-bombed city in an effort to treat the radiation victims of nuclear testing. The lecture series organized at the medical university in Semey is emblematic of this effort. The Hiroshima-based group said that it will continue its work in Kazakhstan by offering further guidance on surgical techniques, among other activities.


Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project (“Hirosemi”)
In conjunction with the Asian Games held in Hiroshima in 1994, community centers in the city of Hiroshima and residents living near these centers organized a program of support called “One Center for One Country Support Activities.” Back then, some people in the Suzugamine area had ties to the athletes from Kazakhstan, and this early influence led to the establishment of the Hiroshima Semipalatinsk Project in 1998, centering on residents near the Suzugamine community center located in Nishi Ward, Hiroshima. Since 1999, the group’s work has mainly been focused on providing support to the radiation sufferers of Kazakhstan, who were exposed to nuclear weapons tests. Since 2000, it has also been involved in receiving students from Kazakhstan to Hiroshima. Its current membership numbers around 100 people.

(Originally published on September 17, 2012)