Former Japanese Health Official Found Guilty of Failing to Prevent Use of HIV-Tainted Blood Products
On Friday, the Tokyo District Court found Akihito Matsumura, a former Japanese health and welfare ministry official, guilty of negligence for failing to prevent the use of HIV-contaminated blood products in 1,432 people during the early 1980s, Agence France-Presse reports. The court ruled that Matsumura, who was in charge of the ministry's biologics division from July 1984 to June 1986, was responsible for the AIDS-related deaths of at least one of two hemophiliac and liver patients who received the tainted blood products, and he was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years. "The accused was responsible for avoiding deaths from AIDS by taking measures to ban doctors from using unheated blood products. But the accused neglected the responsibility and continued allowing pharmaceutical firms and doctors to sell and use the products, which led to one of the two deaths," the court said in its ruling. The case was the third of three negligence trials related to the scandal, which "erupted" in 1989 when a group of infected hemophiliacs sued the government and the companies that supplied the blood products. The ruling marked the first time a bureaucrat has been convicted of negligence in connection with the tainted blood (Ito, Agence France-Presse, 9/28).
In March, Takeshi Abe, Japan's former top authority on hemophilia and former vice president of Tokyo-based Teikyo University, was absolved of criminal responsibility in the AIDS-related death of one of his patients. Judge Toshio Nagai found Abe not guilty of allowing the use of unheated blood-clotting agents that were tainted with HIV on three different occasions between May and June 1985. Nagai said that at the time, unheated blood products were "lauded for their efficiency in stopping bleeding and causing fewer side effects," adding that no person should be "convicted of professional negligence when merits of medical treatment would offset risk of the method." Abe also was alleged to have "close ties" with Green Cross Corp., a "major" importer of unheated blood-clotting products. Last year, an Osaka court convicted three former heads of the company on charges of professional negligence, finding them guilty of failing to stop sales of blood products from the United States even though they knew that the products risked being HIV-contaminated (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/28). Japanese Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said the government "need[s] to view the outcome [of the case] seriously" and "make our best efforts to prevent such an incident from ever occurring again within this ... ministry." More than 1,400 hemophiliacs were exposed to HIV through the tainted blood products and more than 500 may have died as a result of AIDS-related complications (Reuters, 9/28).