Accolades for our Documentary Film

Japan ME Association was honoured to receive words of recommendation for our documentary film, “Hope to these Hands: The Reality of ME/CFS,” from Japan Medical Association and World Medical Association President Dr. Yoshitaka Yokokura on December 17. We would like to share his kind words (translated from Japanese):

“Congratulations to Director Seiji Arihara and Japan ME Association for the completion of the film ‘Hope to these Hands: The Reality of ME/CFS.’ This work carefully encompasses not only the symptoms of this disease, but other dimensions of the reality of the illness surrounding the patients, such as the inability of patients to obtain Disability Certificates and the activities of the patient association, including from the voices of the patients themselves. It is a film that should be seen not only by medical professionals, but by the general public. There are indications of hope for patients in the recent efforts of researchers around the world to develop treatments. It is my hope that by having as many people as possible view the film, a deeper understanding of the illness and advances within Japan concerning the development of diagnostic criteria and the drafting of guidelines will result. The Japan Medical Association, in our capacity, would like to continue to assist in these efforts.”

On December 13, we also received the following generous words from the Japan Council on Disability (JD) president  Katsunori Fujii (translated from Japanese):

“One wonders why, while patients [at large] experience similar suffering to live, there are such differences in the way government administration treats them. Through images and the voices of patients, the film conveys the reality and practical difficulties of the patients’ situations from a perspective that is both human and objectively critical. We encourage as many people as possible to see this film, and to host voluntary screenings of the film.”

Finally, Japanese Society of Neurology President Dr. Ryosuke Takahashi (Professor, Kyoto University School of Medicine) appears in the film and has also expressed his recommendation of the film.

An Outstanding Preview Screening of our ME Documentary Film

Japan ME Association hosted its first preview screening of “Hope to these Hands: The Reality of ME/CFS,” our original documentary film depicting the situation of severely ill ME/CFS patients in Japan which we began filming in 2014, at the TKP Shinagawa Conference Center in Shinagawa, Tokyo on October 22, 2017. Despite rain from a typhoon, many people turned out for the event and we were able to hold a highly successful premiere of the film. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who attended, as well as to those who worked tirelessly to raise funds to make production of the film possible.

With JMEA board member Dr. Isu Shin, MD moderating, JMEA President Mieko Shinohara  thanked Director Seiji Arihara for making the film and expressed that the objective of making and screening the film before audiences in Japan was to raise accurate awareness about ME and to advance research for the disease.

Mr. Arihara then gave a candid introduction to the film, revealing that when he and Ms. Shinohara  first produced a Japanese-subtitled version of the American documentary film “I Remember Me,” many years ago, he had never imagined that he would one day be making a Japanese documentary about Japanese ME patients. He explained that it was a film that required acquiring a deep understanding of the disease, and expressed his apologies to the many patients who agreed to be filmed but who were not depicted in the final version of the documentary.

The film depicts the lives of patients who are severely affected by this neuroimmune disease, the activities of the patient association amidst a society that does not recognize or understand the illness, the consequences of patients’ inability to obtain Disability Certificates with an ME/CFS diagnosis, the personal and economic difficulties faced by patients, recent research developments in Japan and abroad, and finally the hope surrounding the recent research into effective treatments.

We received immediate feedback on the film after the screening. Comments included: “Thank you for making this film,” “The film captured patients’ thoughts and troubles concisely,” “It was encouraging to learn about all the research being done in the United States,” “I was happy that the film makes clear that ‘stress’ is not the cause of the illness,” “I felt encouraged to overcome the difficulties that I experience,” “The film achieved a balance between subjective patient experiences and objective information,”  and “I want the severely ill patients who couldn’t make it to the screening to see the film as soon as possible.”

After a short break, former JMEA Vice President Dr. Miwako Hosoda spoke about the remarkable journey of Japan ME Association’s efforts in engaging medical researchers, government policymakers, social scientists, other non-profit associations, and the media to improve the situation of patients’ lives.

Finally, Dr. Takashi Yamamura, Director of Immunology at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry (NCNP) gave a presentation entitled “Directions in ME/CFS Research.” Dr. Yamamura, a specialist in multiple sclerosis (MS) who is now also engaged in ME/CFS research, gave the example of developments in MS, where after 25 years of having no effective treatments, there are now around five drug treatments for the disease, with many patients able to work; when one drug emerges, the landscape can change dramatically within 10 years. Neurological diseases often are not detected by standard medical tests, as is the case with ME/CFS. He opined on the importance of research on inflammation in the brain and about the potential for major research advances in Japan; Japan should not merely depend on research to come out of the United States, especially with the high level of Japan’s immunological research, with its research institutions possessing the same technology as research universities like Stanford University. Dr. Yamamura emphasized the importance of detecting the disease early in patients going forward, and the possibility of using existing drugs to treat the disease. 

Finally, we held a press conference.  We answered questions including how we planned to use the documentary to spread awareness in Japan, whether the name “chronic fatigue syndrome” would change, and what steps were necessary to obtain the necessary funding to advance medical research.

Participation in the Japanese Society of Neurology Conference

Japan ME Association participated in the 56th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society of Neurology at the Niigata Convention Center, where we hosted a patient organization booth featuring information about ME. Our objective was to bring ME, which has been classified as a neurological disorder since by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to the attention of neurologists in Japan.

Our booth featured a 10-minute video about ME featuring clinical findings from brain images of ME patients. We also distributed summaries of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s 2014 patient survey, relevant research papers from Stanford University Medicine’s ME/CFS initiative, and JMEA’s information pamphlets on ME. We discussed the disease with the many neurologists and physiotherapists who came to the booth.

The annual conference will be held in Kobe next year. We hope to continue to attract further interest in ME among neurologists in Japan.

Presentation of 2014 Patient Survey Results at the Diet

Japan ME Association and the St. Marianna University School of Medicine held a joint presentation and press conference on the results of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s 2014 “Patient Survey Concerning Activities of Daily Living Difficulty Levels of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients” at the House of Representatives Hall on April 22nd, 2015. Lead survey investigator Dr. Kazuo Yudo of St. Marianna University School of Medicine presented the survey results, with JMEA board member Dr. Isu Shin moderating the discussion.

The survey revealed that 30.2% of ME patients in Japan are severely ill patients who are either “bedridden with need for constant assistance” or “bedridden more than half of the day with need for frequent assistance.” This finding of the percentage of severely ill ME patients in Japan was consistent with the 25% percentage of severely ill ME patients cited by the International Association for CFS/ME (IACFS/ME).

So-called moderate ME patients comprised a further 35.1% of patients. These patients are mostly housebound, and are “able to conduct self-care but are unable to participate in regular social life or perform light labor,” or “are able to perform light labor on good days but require rest at home for more than 50% of the week.” Accordingly, the survey revealed for the first time in Japan that more than 65% of ME patients in Japan face a serious degree of impairment in conducting activities of daily living.

JMEA President Mieko Shinohara emphasized that the aspect of ME that patients cited as being the most difficult was physical suffering from disease symptoms. She appealed to the Diet members in attendance to adopt the Association’s petition in this year’s Diet session, following its adoption last year by the House of Councillors, but not by the House of Representatives.

Among the many notable comments raised in the ensuing discussion included: “There seem to be more patients who report not being able to work compared to other diseases,” “It is extremely difficult for patients to obtain Physical Disability Certificates,” “Any observations concerning the large number of young people and women among patients?” and “Does the uneven regional distribution of study patients reflect the lack of specialist physicians?” Questions from the media included: “How do the study results compare to studies from overseas?,” “Are there specific infections that trigger the disease?”

The survey team responded that the survey included patients who were unable to leave their homes for regular doctor visits; that there is no government or scientific organization in Japan that recognizes physicians as ME specialists; and that there is a need to re-examine the diagnostic criteria used in Japan.

More than 120 people attended the event, including 15 Diet members and 24 secretaries to Diet members across five parties. Officials from government agencies also attended, including from the Ministry of Health’s Specific Disease Control Division, the Department of Health and Welfare for Persons with Disabilities, and the Pension Bureau, as well as from the Ministry of Education’s Special Needs Education Division of the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau.

The survey findings were covered in the 9pm NHK national news the same evening. Articles about the survey findings appeared in national newspapers such as Asahi and Mainichi news. Kyodo news, regional media outlets, and specialty publications also covered the event.