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Minamisoma municipal hospital to begin dialysis treatment

15 July 2017

The Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, is poised to launch dialysis treatment within the 2017 fiscal year ending next March. It has become difficult for new dialysis patients to find treatment options in the Soma region on the Pacific coast since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In response, the hospital intends to secure equipment for dialysis treatment and necessary personnel in partnership with the prefectural government, Fukushima Medical University and local medical institutions. Other local hospitals will also enhance their capacity for providing the therapy to pave the way for improved medical environment, enabling evacuees to return home permanently with peace of mind.

The municipal hospital plays a key role in medical care in the Soma region that lies in the northern coastal part of the prefecture. With dialysis patients expected to increase along with progress in the termination of evacuation areas, the hospital has judged it necessary to improve regional medical services.

The hospital plans to purchase about eight dialyzers by capitalizing on a new subsidy program scheduled to be introduced by the prefectural government within fiscal 2017.

Treatment is to be overseen by a team of doctors and nurses at the hospital. In order to treat as many patients as possible, the hospital will request the central and local governments, as well as Fukushima Medical University, provide manpower support, including the dispatch of specialist doctors. Consultations among the parties concerned are expected to begin soon. The hospital is also considering asking medical institutions in other regions to dispatch nurses and other staff as trainees in dialysis treatment.

Other hospitals already offering dialysis therapy are moving to improve services. Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake local daily, has learned that at least two of the four hospitals in the Soma region are considering purchasing more dialyzers -- two by the Soma Central Hospital in Soma city and one by the Ohmachi Hospital in Minamisoma. The Soma Central Hospital is set to increase the number of patients it can accommodate by accepting personnel such as nurses from other medical institutions elsewhere in the prefecture.

Prefectural and other officials believe that more people have come to suffer diabetes and other diseases in the Soma region since the quake and nuclear disaster. The residents' age and their prolonged stays in evacuation housing are blamed. The four hospitals in the region offering dialysis treatment can accept only about 200 patients at the most due to the shortage of doctors and nurses. New patients finding it difficult to receive treatment at the local hospitals have no choice but to visit those in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi. But Miyagi hospitals are straining under the weight, making it hard for them to provide treatment to patients from Fukushima and thus boosting the need for action to strengthen local medical services in the Soma region.

Zones being prepared for the lifting of evacuation orders and residency-restricted zones were terminated this spring in the Soma region, except in the towns of Okuma and Futaba which host the crippled nuclear plant, further prompting the return of evacuated residents. Officials involved in medical care believe the planned increase in the number of new patients accepted in the Soma region "can produce the extra effect of promoting the homecoming of evacuees" to the region as well as to the Futaba region that lies south of Soma.

According to the Fukushima government, the number of dialysis patients in the prefecture continues to rise, reaching some 5,000 in fiscal 2016. But doctors and nurses are in short supply in mountainous areas, forcing patients to visit urban hospitals when local treatment services are insufficient. Efforts to improve preparedness for treatment are called for across the prefecture.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

21 June 2017

Date goes whole hog into boar leather business in Fukushima

[Translated by the Japan Times]Wild boar leather is said to breathe well and resist chafing. It is used in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, to make products like babies’ first walking shoes because it is soft and fits well.

In the leather workshop at Dateshi Noringyo Shinko Kosha (Date Agriculture and Forestry Promotion Public Corp.) in the city’s Ryozen district, one can hear the comforting sound of rubbing leather parts. Workers are carefully stitching the parts together and nailing on the metal parts using presses.

Its business of selling wild boar leather products under the brand name Ino Date is gradually catching on, with the main products, including key fobs and babies’ walking shoes, proving so popular that production can’t keep up with demand. The products are sold at the local inn Ryozen Kosaikan, Hobara Station on the Abukuma Express Line, and Ubuka no Sato — a public bath in the town of Kori in the prefecture.

The wild boar are captured by local hunters, and their skin goes through radiation testing before and after tanning to confirm safety.

The corporation initially wanted to sell the meat, but they had to give up on the idea because eating wild boar caught in the area was banned after the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

They came up with the idea of developing leather products after learning about a company in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward that tans wild animal hides. After repeated talks with representatives from the local tourism industry, the corporation began selling leather products in April 2015. It currently employs seven staffers and 16 artisans for the project.

As the government continues to ban shipments of wild animal meat from the region due to radiation concerns, the boar population is growing and causing serious crop damage. Over 1,800 of them have been captured in the city in the six years since the meltdowns.

The corporation posted ¥3.54 million in leather sales last year but is having trouble cutting costs, including payments for hunters and tanners.

“Recognition of wild boar leather products is still low,” said the corporation’s secretary-general, Katsunori Sagawa, 53. “We are determined to go headlong, like a boar, into strengthening our brand and expanding our sales channels.”

4 July 2017

Minamisoma city struggles to attract pediatricians, obstetricians amid post-disaster lack of doctors

Minamisoma city in Fukushima Prefecture is redoubling efforts to invite pediatricians and obstetricians with a view to improving medical services for children and mothers. It had set a June 30 deadline for applications under an incentive program involving subsidy payments in a bid to cover a shortage of these medical specializations caused by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident, but there were no applicants.

Except at the Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital, there is no doctor specializing in pediatrics and only one obstetrician in the city's private hospitals and clinics. On July 3, the city extended the deadline to the end of September and began working on relevant institutions in a more intensive manner for cooperation.

Until the quake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, the city had around five pediatricians and at least five obstetricians serving at the municipal hospital and private hospitals and clinics, according to municipal officials.

All pediatricians at private hospitals and clinics left the city for evacuation and other reasons following the nuclear disaster, leaving only one pediatrician at the municipal hospital. Due to the lack of manpower, the city is asking the Public Soma General Hospital in Soma city to accept newborns requiring hospitalization. The Minamisoma municipal hospital has a stopgap obstetrician -- seconded by Fukushima Medical University -- as well as a full-time one. There is only one obstetrician in private practice.

Minamisoma inaugurated the open recruitment program last year to resolve the problem of the lack of doctors, offering to grant up to 50 million yen to a practitioner planning to set up a clinic in the city to help finance expenses such as the cost of installing medical equipment. An orthopedic surgeon applied for the scheme last year but no doctor has from the pediatric or obstetric branches of medicine.

City officials are struggling day by day to attract applicants, urging them to use the incentive scheme while also requesting Fukushima Medical University to dispatch more doctors. The campaign is led by Yuichi Nakazato , who was involved in the inauguration of the public recruitment system as head of the city’s health and welfare department. After mandatory retirement at age 60 last spring, he is now responsible for regional medical care following his reappointment as team leader and chief of the health service section.

Nakazato believes that many doctors stay away from taking on the financial burden of the initial investment, despite the subsidy program, amid bleak prospects in a city where the number of children has shrunk due to the evacuation of many residents.

The city intends to give priority to an improved medical service environment permitting easier opening of clinics by considering relaxing requirements for subsidy payments. “It is the responsibility of the administration to build a medical care system looking 10 to 20 years ahead,” Nakazato said.

■“Family doctors” wanted by mothers

Childrearing generations are calling for a better medical environment for children who carry the future of regional communities.

A 27-year-old mother in the Haramachi district of Minamisoma says she was surprised to find no pediatric specialist in the neighborhood after carrying out Internet searches when her 5-month-old son could not stop coughing. She eventually chose to visit a physician not specializing in pediatrics but felt unsure about the doctor not being a specialist.

“Pediatric specialists are well prepared, setting up two or more entrances to their clinics for infection control, for example,” the mother said. “I am scared to think of the possibility of my son becoming seriously ill by infection,” she added, stressing the need for readily available primary care doctors.

■Measures taken to secure doctors in Fukushima Pref.

The shortage of pediatricians and obstetricians is not limited to Minamisoma. It is also a serious issue elsewhere in Fukushima Prefecture. The prefectural government has taken various measures to secure doctors and ensure their long-term commitment.

According to a survey by the central government's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Fukushima had 10.7 pediatricians per 100,000 population as of Dec. 31, 2014, ranking 43rd among Japan’s 47 prefectures, and 6.5 obstetricians per 100,000 population, or 46th, highlighting the serious situation Fukushima faces.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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