Working to save lives in Afghanistan
19 October 2018
An Australian Army pathologist deployed to Afghanistan on Operation Highroad is working alongside coalition medics to save lives.
Lieutenant Philip Cameron manages the ‘Walking Blood Bank’ at the military hospital at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul.
“The Walking Blood Bank is a pre-screened pool of United States and Australian service men and women who are on-call to donate blood during medical emergencies,” Lieutenant Cameron said.
“It reduces the need to store and refrigerate large amounts of blood, which can be difficult in Kabul, and it minimises waste, which occurs when donated blood reaches the end of its shelf life.”
With blood loss a major cause of death in combat casualties, the Walking Blood Bank can save lives.
The process begins as soon as medical staff are told a casualty being brought to the hospital might require blood.
Several donors from each blood group are called and asked to come in immediately.
After the casualty arrives and Lieutenant Cameron identifies their blood group, a nurse takes blood from the compatible donors.
For safety reasons, blood is drawn from the donor to a bag, not directly from donor to casualty.
“That is for the safety of the donor, so we know how much blood has been taken. We don’t want to cause another casualty,” Lieutenant Cameron said. “I then walk the bag to the casualty.”
The process takes less than 15 minutes from the time the donation begins until the casualty receives the blood.
“The speed of this is key in assisting the clinical staff to have enough time to undertake life-saving interventions,” Lieutenant Cameron said.
The donors are volunteers and are pre-screened before they are accepted into the Walking Blood Bank.
There are about 70 registered donors but Lieutenant Cameron plans to increase that to 120 before the end of his deployment.
The medical facility is a NATO hospital led by the US.
It is staffed by military health professionals and specialists from a number of coalition partners, including Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Turkey, Germany, Portugal and the US.
Lieutenant Cameron is assisted by a laboratory technician from Slovakia, Rotna Martina Sedzmakova, and an Australian Army Reserve nursing officer, Captain Joel Donkin.
“We all want to achieve the same goal but it’s interesting to see how we do things just a little differently,” Lieutenant Cameron said.
As a scientific officer (pathologist), he is responsible for aiding medical practitioners in the diagnosis, monitoring and prevention of disease through the analysis of biological specimens.
Scientific officers serve in the Army’s deployable health unit, 2nd General Health Battalion, based at Gallipoli Barracks, Brisbane.
They are also posted to the Maritime Operational Health Unit in Sydney where they maintain the pathology capabilities on board HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra.