Doctors use digital cameras in India's earthquake town
Every day, more than 130 patients come to the Japanese Red Cross clinic in the earthquake-struck town of Sukhpar, near Bhuj. The medical team are using the latest digital technology to help them make decisions while operating on the injured, emailing photographs of injuries back to experts in Japan.
Seven-year-old Gopal Ramesh is grateful; this approach has helped save his fingers from being amputated. When the quake rocked Gujarat district on the morning of January 26, Gopal Ramesh was at home watching India's Republic Day military parade - the real life version of some of the toys he usually plays with.
Gopal's parents dragged him out of the way of a falling stone wall as their home collapsed in the earthquake. But a large stone fell on his right hand and almost smashed his fingers. There was no doctor available to treat him for the first few days and before long, the wound became infected. The Japanese doctors have to decide whether they can save his fingers, or whether they have to be amputated to save the boy's hand.
The Japanese Red Cross doctors think that treating his wounds, redressing them and prescribing medicines will be enough to save Gopal's fingers. But what if they are wrong? Just to be sure, they want a second opinion. Normally in a temporary mobile clinic in an earthquake-devastated zone, this would not be possible.
"Brave men play with guns, don't they? So why do you cry like this now," his mother asks the weeping Gopal as Dr. Takamura from the Japanese Red Cross holds his fingers apart while another doctor takes a succession of photographs of his injury with a digital camera.
The team brought with them a digital camera, a computer and a satellite phone, which they can use to communicate with experts halfway round the world. After taking the pictures, the doctors then e-mail them to the Kumamoto Red Cross hospital back in Japan for a second opinion.
"Our colleagues examine the state of the injury at the Kumamoto prefecture hospital and give us their opinion over the phone. We get specific advice and this is invaluable. It makes it so much easier for us to arrive at the right decision," explains Dr. Akira Miyata, the team leader.
It is a novel method but one that has proved to be very successful.
Luckily for Gopal there was no need for an amputation.
The only drawback to the e-mail system is that the process can be slow. However, a Japanese company is providing a new software soon. Not only will it speed up the transmission of the picture, but it will also enable the doctors to talk to one another at the same time and discuss what they see.
Just like during the exodus of the Kosovo Albanians back in 1999, when the Red Cross used the Internet to reunificate families dismantled by war, now in the midst of ruins and devastation, modern technology comes again to the service of humanity.