The Japanese government bears ultimate responsibility for hepatitis C infections caused by tainted blood products, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said Monday, according to a news report.
"Pharmaceutical matters are the responsibility of the authority that grants permissions for them, and that includes the moral responsibility. I expect we'll be discussing the matter further in the (ruling) party," Kyodo News agency quoted Fukuda as saying.
The prime minister also said he intended to meet with a group of hepatitis C sufferers who are seeking damages from the government and drug makers, Kyodo said.
Officials from the prime minister's office were not immediately able to confirm the reported remarks.
About 200 patients have filed lawsuits in five courts across Japan, demanding compensation from the government and drug makers Nihon Pharmaceutical Co., Mitsubishi Pharma Corp. and its subsidiary Benesis Corp.. Japanese media say about 800 more are expected to file suits.
The plaintiffs say they contracted hepatitis C while using defective blood-clotting medicines, mostly in the 1980s, and claim the government and the drug-makers continued to use the medicines, despite knowing they were potentially contaminated.
Four of the five courts have ordered the defendants _ the government and drug makers _ to compensate dozens of patients and the Osaka High Court issued a settlement proposal in November. The two sides have since attempted to reach an out-of-court settlement, although negotiations have bogged down over how the plaintiffs would be compensated.
On Sunday, Fukuda said his ruling bloc will submit legislation to provide aid to approximately 1,000 people who have filed or are reportedly expected to file compensation suits.
Hepatitis C is a viral disease affecting the liver and is often transmitted through contact with infected blood.
An estimated 2 million Japanese have contracted the disease, many through tainted blood products, media reports say.