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Health

Japan's PM frontrunner vows insurance coverage for fertility treatments

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga presents his policy ideas to party members at the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership election in its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, September 8, 2020. Du Xiaoyi Pool via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Yoshihide Suga, the frontrunner to become Japan’s next prime minister, on Wednesday proposed insurance coverage for expensive fertility treatments.

At a candidacy speech for the premier’s role, Suga said the country’s low birth rate was a long-term challenge, and pledged to create an “environment where women can stay healthy and play an active role in the community”.

His comments drove up shares in makers of fertility treatments, with ASKA Pharmaceutical Co Ltd rising 16%.

“In order to broadly support households that want childbirth, we will make infertility treatment applicable to insurance,” Suga said.

The outgoing prime minister Shinzo Abe’s policies to boost the role of women in the economy and politics, dubbed “womenomics”, was a pillar of his efforts to cope with Japan’s low birth rate and ageing population.

But Japan’s gender gap widened under Abe’s adminstration, and the country’s birth rate hit another record low last year.

The Abe administration, which has called the rapidly graying population and falling number of births a “national crisis,” introduced free preschool education and daycare services for childen from last year.

But the government still faces criticism that working mothers are on the long wait lists for their children to be admitted.

While he plans to adopt Abe’s existing policies in areas from the economy to the coronavirus pandemic response, Suga said fertility treatment support would be one of his campaign promises.

Reporting by Ju-min Park and Tetsushi Kajimoto; additional reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Jane Wardell

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