APDA The Asian Population and Development AssociationAPDA The Asian Population and Development Association

INTERVIEW

Compensation for childbirth and education costs, better preschool services, availability of gynecologists and pediatricians, and improvement in the way women are treated in their workplaces are extremely important.

Member of the House of Representatives
Chair, Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, House of Representatives
Hon. Akira Sato https://www.akira310.com/

During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, I considered, in my role as the State Minister of Defense, specific ways for transporting Japanese nationals back to Japan if they were infected in West Africa. Even though such a situation did not come to pass, I felt the importance of building a crisis management system, training specialist physicians, and laying down a health care system as well as having a stockpile of supplies, such as N95 masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment, because you will never know when and where an infection might spread. For this reason, I requested stockpiling of medical supplies across Japan.

Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19 in February last year, Osaka prefectural government began distributing free masks to passengers entering Japan from Kansai International Airport as a border control measure, but the masks ran out by around March and April. Medical gowns also quickly ran out.

Amid this shortage of medical supplies, the Federation of Osaka Prefectural Liberal Democratic Party Branches made a request for assistance to the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare in April to protect health care professionals. I acted as a contact person and communicated with medical associations to understand the extent of the shortage. We were somehow able to overcome the April crisis. I also contacted sewing companies for medical gowns, and they cooperated in completing the gowns in May, earlier than the scheduled date.

In my local district of Osaka, we have many small and medium-sized enterprises and restaurants that are struggling from the effects of COVID-19. After the state of emergency was declared in April 2020, we put together a request for rapid, effective deployment of additional economic measures, including business sustainability benefits and guarantee on rents, based on opinions and requests received from prefectural citizens and various industries, and submitted the request to Hon. Fumio Kishida, Chair of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s Policy Research Council.

As for population issues, we at LDP’s Special Committee on Foreign Workers submitted emergency recommendations to Prime Minister Suga last November. The recommendations included measures for supporting foreign technical interns and international students in Japan amid the coronavirus pandemic, for preventing the spread of the infection, including disseminating information about prevention, and for dissuading people from turning to illegal activities.

I promoted various programs when I served as the Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate. The high cost of education as percentage of household budget is one of the main reasons for low fertility. To ameliorate this situation, we introduced free preschool education for children three to five years of age. We are also discussing implementing a system for providing benefits that would partially pay expenses for starting college or vocational school as well as another system modeled after Australia’s HECS scholarship program.

At the Parliamentary Caucus for Reducing the Burden of Childbirth Cost, we submitted a petition to LDP’s Secretary-General Hon. Toshihiro Nikai for increasing the amount of support provided by the government to pay for childbirth costs. For married couples who want to have children, compensation for childbirth and education costs, better preschool services, availability of gynecologists and pediatricians, and improvement in the way women are treated in their workplaces are extremely important. This covers education, health care, and labor, and requires cross-cutting efforts across government ministries and agencies. We will continue to work towards achieving these goals from the perspective of politics.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, politicians are expected to exercise leadership in enabling citizens to restore calm in their daily lives as soon as possible. I am committed to continue to do my utmost in fulfilling that role.

Interviewed in January 2021

※The titles shown are those held at the time of interview.

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