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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Japan blood scandal official convicted
Akihito Matsumura:
Akihito Matsumura: Slow to act on infection risks
A court in Japan has found a former top official in the health ministry guilty of negligence over a scandal concerning blood tainted by HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

The Tokyo District court handed down a one-year suspended sentence to the man, Akihito Matsumura, after it ruled he was responsible for the death of a patient who contracted Aids after being given untreated blood products in 1986.

BBC correspondent Peter Hatfield in Tokyo says it is a landmark case for Japan, where bureaucrats rarely get into trouble for inaction. However, the suspended sentence has upset many Aids activists.

Heat treatment makes blood safe
More 1,400 haemophiliacs were exposed to HIV as a result of his failure to prevent the distribution of blood in the 1980s when it was known there was a risk of contamination. More than 500 of those people have died.

Matsumura, 60, was head of the Health Ministry division that handled blood products from 1984 to 1986.

Heat treatment, which makes blood safe, was not approved in Japan until 1985, about two years after it was introduced in the US. Unheated blood was not banned until 1986.


The court said: "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."

Matsumura was found not guilty of responsibility for the death of a second patient, who contracted Aids after receiving unheated blood products in 1985.

Correspondents say the scandal has shaken Japan's powerful bureaucracy and pharmaceutical industry and raised questions about whether the government valued corporate profits over people's lives.

In February last year, three executives with the Green Cross Corp, which imported unheated blood-clotting agents, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 16 months to two years.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | Europe
Aids scandals around the world
28 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Doctor cleared in HIV scandal
09 Mar 99 | Europe
Acquittals in French blood trial
08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Blood: The risks of infection
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