A Japanese pharmaceutical company said Thursday it would start settlement talks with victims of hepatitis virus-tainted blood products as the government admitted its failure to prevent infections.
The government and the company estimate at least 10,000 Japanese people have been infected with potentially fatal hepatitis C after being administered with fibrinogen, which is used to stop bleeding.
Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp., a newly merged firm that incorporates the producer of the medical product under state licence, said it has agreed to reach a settlement in five lawsuits filed over the disease.
It said it has earmarked 2.1 billion yen (18.17 million dollars) to settle the case.
"We will respond to the calls for settlement discussions," Natsuki Hayama, company president, told a press conference.
The announcement came weeks after a court proposed settlement talks among the government, the company and the victims.
The government had denied its responsibility in the series of lawsuits.
But Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who came to power a month ago, said Thursday he thought the government bore responsibility by approving the products.
Fibrinogen was widely used at Japanese hospitals until 1988, mostly during surgeries or after women give birth, even though the US government had warned the public of its danger in 1977.
The company has come under fire for its failure to respond to requests by victims for information disclosure and to swiftly notify people who might have contracted the disease.
Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said he has ordered the company to report to him every week on the progress in notifying victims of their infections.
"Stern measures must be taken if I feel they are not acting sincerely," he said.