Friday, July 4, 2008

Swinfen Charitable Trust

This story is a true testament to how the internet can be used to save lives.

Picture this: two septuagenarians sitting pensively in front of three computer screens, waiting for the email to arrive. This is Lord and Lady Swinfen - and the emails upon which they are awaiting come from war-torn areas around the globe. These emails are a call for medical assistance - from doctors and other medical professionals - struggling with the influx of sick and injured, battling on in extreme conditions and often without the medical technology we often take for granted.

From: The Florence Nightingales of the Internet:
"Every day a small charity set up by Lord and Lady Swinfen uses email and digital photography to put patients from some of the most deprived and war-torn regions of the world in touch with globally renowned surgeons and consultants. Last year alone the charity, which was established in 1998 and is funded almost entirely by the couple, helped more than 400 people.

From their home near Canterbury, Lord and Lady Swinfen spend almost every waking hour monitoring three computer screens. The moment an email comes in from a doctor explaining symptoms with photographs and X-rays, they forward it on to a specialist in that field – every one of whom, like the Swinfens, gives their time for free.

The way in which the charity works is simple. The Swinfens take normal digital cameras – bought from high-street shops for no more than £200 – and train medics in war-torn countries how to download the images they take and email them to the charity's headquarters. Requests for help are then forwarded on to volunteer specialists who either email their advice back, or, in urgent cases, call the medic. Hospitals too poor to afford complicated video links have sudden access to a wealth of expertise. Thanks to the Swinfens' work, just under 140 hospitals in regions as far flung as Laos and Lithuania are now being aided by 382 eminent experts from the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The pair speak with unabashed admiration for the doctors on the other end of the emails, such as the British medic working out of the back of a car in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan and the French consultant in Antarctica. But they reserved particular praise for the Iraqis who persist in peril. So far two of their network in the country have been murdered.

Lord Swinfen, a former Army officer who spent many years with the John Grooms Association for the Disabled, was working in Bangladesh at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in 1998 when he met Lt-Col David Vassallo on a trip home. The Army surgeon had thought up the idea of transmitting images back from Bosnia to Surgeon Commander Peter Buxton at the (since closed) Royal Haslar military hospital in Portsmouth. Lord Swinfen took the idea on board in Dhaka and, within a year, two other hospitals – in Nepal and the Solomon Islands – had embraced telemedicine.

Their reputation has spread by word of mouth, and they receive daily offers of help from doctors or pleas for aid from hospitals. Their work often mirrors the trouble spots of the day. Current requests come from Zimbabwe, Burma and the earthquake-hit region of south-western China."

Learn more about The Swinfen Charitable Trust

No comments: