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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Misunderstanding? Misinformation?

November 5, 2014

 

COMMENTARY: Birth defects never increased in Fukushima Prefecture

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/views/column/AJ201411050012

 

By AKIKO OKAZAKI/ Staff Writer

The rate of birth defects in babies born in Fukushima Prefecture remains no different from the national average even after the nuclear disaster there, says a report recently worked out by a study group of the health ministry.

Three surveys have targeted expectant and nursing mothers in Fukushima Prefecture following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The first, on which the latest health ministry study group report is based, was conducted by the Japan Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the second is the prefectural government’s health survey of all residents in the prefecture; and the third was carried out by Fukushima Medical University.

The prefectural government’s survey covers women who have received Maternal and Child Health Handbooks and uses postal mail to ask them questions, including on the outcome of their pregnancies, whether they have breast-fed their babies, and whether they are feeling depressed.

Those who were pregnant at the time of the disaster and gave birth outside Fukushima Prefecture are also eligible for the survey, which has found, like the health ministry report, that the birth defect rate was no different from the national average.

The university’s survey studied the rates of miscarriages and abortions, which were found to have remained unchanged before and after the nuclear disaster.

Keiya Fujimori, a Fukushima Medical University professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said he has seen a number of pregnant women who were concerned about the impact of the nuclear disaster on their babies. Fujimori was involved in all three surveys.

A total of 13,770 babies were born in Fukushima Prefecture in 2012, the year following the nuclear disaster, down nearly 10 percent year on year. The number rebounded slightly in 2013, but has yet to recover to pre-disaster levels.

“I hope more people will see the figures from the surveys in Fukushima and decide to give birth and raise their children in Fukushima,” Fujimori said.

It is believed that exposure to high doses of intense radiation during pregnancy can cause spina bifida and other birth defects. But the International Commission on Radiological Protection has recommended there is no need for an abortion when fetal doses remain less than 100 millisieverts.

And the total radiation dose over the first four months of the disaster remained less than 5 millisieverts for 99.8 percent of the population of Fukushima Prefecture.

Current available figures appear to be enough proof of the safety of giving birth and raising babies in Fukushima Prefecture. But it is one thing for humans to understand something in their minds, and another to have matching emotions.

That is typically exemplified by the high rates of those who say they are in a state of depression.

While about 10 percent of postnatal women generally suffer from depression, that ratio rose to 27 percent across Fukushima Prefecture, and to more than 30 percent in the prefecture’s Soso area hosting the nuclear plant, in the fiscal 2011 survey. The ratio continued to exceed 25 percent in fiscal 2012.

Women who are pregnant or are giving birth are so nervous about their babies' health that even the slightest concern can set them on edge.

The crudest sorts of slanderous accusations have lessened, but some online postings continue to say, for example, that Down syndrome and deformities occur frequently among babies in Fukushima.

The prefectural government is sending out, along with its survey forms, booklets that explain the impact of radiation on babies and other issues. Midwives and other experts are also available for direct telephone counseling for those who suffer from high levels of anxiety.

But misunderstanding may die hard unless the information is delivered to all people across Japan--not just to expectant and nursing mothers in Fukushima Prefecture. I hope to continue being a deliverer of up-to-date information myself.

 

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