Hiroshima Memo: A pressing need for a system to sustain medical assistance from Hiroshima

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Human beings use their imagination to feel closer to, or comprehend, a part of the world they have never visited. Then, once they venture to that place, their grasp of that reality deepens significantly and the truth of the proverb “Seeing is believing” becomes evident.

Whether Japanese or non-Japanese, many people say that they have never truly understood the horrific consequences of the atomic bombings until they actually visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The same can be said of visiting nuclear testing sites, the environs of nuclear weapons-related facilities, or areas contaminated with radioactive materials as a consequence of major nuclear power plant accidents. And we can never really know the grim effects of radiation on the human body until we actually meet someone who suffers from a radiation-related disease.

Medical personnel from Hiroshima, including doctors, have met this same experience. Since the early 1990s they have treated radiation victims of nuclear tests conducted by the former Soviet Union in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan as well as sufferers in Belarus and Ukraine as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. With the cooperation of Japanese citizens’ groups, they have offered guidance to doctors in these areas.

Through their nearly 20-year effort of providing medical assistance based on their experience treating A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima, the Japanese medical personnel have won the trust of local doctors, residents, and researchers.

“We need doctors with the experience of treating A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima.” “We want to receive training in Hiroshima.” Such requests have been made not only by doctors in former Soviet-bloc states but also by doctors in Iraq, where a large quantity of depleted uranium (DU) weapons, which are radioactive weapons, were used.

However, many of the doctors in Hiroshima who have spearheaded this effort are now in their 60s. In order to continue and extend the international medical contribution that Hiroshima is uniquely qualified to make, the participation of young doctors and nurses is essential.

Above all, young medical personnel should visit these areas with experienced doctors and learn the true effects of radiation on the human body. In addition, the Hiroshima University Medical School could add an “international unit” to its admissions policy and program, as the Nagasaki University Medical School has done, which would focus on international contributions.

The shortage of doctors is among the serious medical issues now being faced. However, the international effort to provide medical assistance to victims of nuclear testing and radiation exposure accidents--an effort which has been nurtured over many years--must not come to an end. How, then, should medical personnel in Hiroshima sustain this effort?

To implement forceful measures for the future, the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation-exposed (HICARE), an organization formed by Hiroshima Prefecture, the City of Hiroshima, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association, and major medical facilities in Hiroshima, should take a leading role in discussions to resolve the difficulties in order to maintain this effort. We call upon those involved to promptly address the challenges of this important work.

(Originally published on June 22, 2009)

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Concern about the future of medical care for radiation victims (June 27, 2009)

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