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Doctor in town hit by Fukushima nuclear disaster provides faithful support 7 1/2 years on

Doctor Shunji Sekine provides an explanation to a patient with a gesture at the Tsushima temporary clinic in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Nihonmatsu, on Sept. 11, 2018. (Mainichi)

NIHONMATSU, Fukushima -- A 76-year-old doctor from the Tsushima district of the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie, whose residents remain evacuated 7 1/2 years after the 2011 outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, welcomed patients into his temporary clinic here with a smile on Sept. 11 as usual.

Shunji Sekine previously worked at a national hospital before he moved to his post at the clinic in Tsushima 21 years ago, in 1997. The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster occurred on March 11, 2011, around the time he was planning to step down and hand his job to a successor. But he still continues to work in the city of Nihonmatsu, about 30 kilometers inland, and has seen many residents become ill or lose their spouses in their prolonged life as evacuees in the city and surrounding areas.

The clinic is located on the premises of the "Ishikura complex," a public housing facility in the city of Nihonmatsu, run by the town of Namie. It is frequented by residents of the town who evacuated into the nearby neighborhood.

"You need to take your medicine every day," he explains to one patient. The doctor engages in conversation with his patients during his examinations as he knows most of their family members and friends.

One of his patients is 83-year-old Reiko Konno, who evacuated to the city of Motomiya.

"I look forward to having a chat when I come here," she said. "I feel calm since he's been my doctor for a long time." Konno lost her husband of more than 50 years a year after the earthquake. Amid growing anxiety, she asked how long Sekine would remain at the clinic. He laughed and replied, "I will be here as long as there's a clinic, and everyone's here."

The 76-year-old physician opened up makeshift clinics at places including a government institution and traditional Japanese inn after he was forced to evacuate. He would lay patients on futons and transfer them in a fire engine when he lacked the necessary medication and equipment and couldn't get an ambulance.

The clinic moved from temporary housing to public housing as reconstruction progressed. It remains the only medical institution in the area that has kept running for 7 1/2 years without ever closing.

Many of Sekine's patients are physically declining faster than their advancing age, and some have already passed away amid prolonged evacuation. Not long after being forced to evacuate, some people who used to be on the move at their farms started using canes and were unable to get out of bed. Others suffered from lifestyle-related diseases as they drank all day. The current situation was unimaginable before the nuclear disaster.

"I want to protect the health of evacuees as long as there's a clinic," says the doctor. He plans to keep watch over the residents whose lives have been tossed about by the nuclear disaster.

(Japanese original by Ryusuke Takahashi, Minamisoma Local Bureau)

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