A group comprising medical and legal experts announced Friday it has launched a fund to provide financial support to children who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer after the 2011 nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture.
The group, named 3/11 Children’s Fund for Thyroid Cancer, will start accepting donations from Sept. 20, aiming to raise at least ¥20 million. The amount could provide at least ¥50,000 each for 200 to 400 people, it said.
Donated funds will be used primarily to cover medical expenses for thyroid cancer patients in Fukushima and neighboring prefectures, it said. The group will announce more details in November on the criteria that will be used to determine who is eligible to receive the aid before it starts accepting applications.
“They are struggling to pay medical bills,” Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer and one of the founding members of the group, said at a news conference in Tokyo. “I don’t think ¥50,000 will be enough for them, but they are impoverished and are struggling, and even that amount will be of help.”
Currently, the medical expenses of children diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fukushima Prefecture are covered by the prefectural government.
Patients, however, have to initially pay their medical expenses out of pocket until they start receiving refunds from the prefecture, placing great financial strain on many families, another member of the group said.
In addition to that, some parents often have to take leave from work to accompany their children during hospital visits, which also includes paying for travel expenses, they said.
According to the group, although medical treatment for thyroid cancer is covered by public health insurance, the patients still have to pay about ¥10,000 per examination and roughly ¥150,000 for surgical procedures. And if patients have to undergo endoscopic surgery, it would cost them an additional ¥300,000, it said.
Since October 2011, the Fukushima government has conducted thyroid screenings for some 380,000 children who were aged 18 or younger.
By the end of March, a total of 173 children were diagnosed with suspected thyroid cancer. Of those, 131 were confirmed to have the cancer after undergoing surgery.
A panel of experts under the prefectural government said in an interim report released in March that those thyroid cancer cases were unlikely to be radiation-induced.
The panel said the amount of radiation released was lower than in the 1986 Chernobyl accident, where more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with the cancer by 2005, and noted that no cancer was found among children aged under 5 at the time of the disaster who are more vulnerable to radiation exposure.