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European medical centres alerted to receive Japan victims

More than 500 bone marrow transplant centres in Europe have been asked to receive victims of the nuclear accident in Japan if necessary, authorities at a European medical organisation said Tuesday.

The appeal came from Barcelona-based European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT).

“We’re working to the model that we might be required to take 200 or more people” suffering from the effects of radiation, “but I think it is remote that that would happen,” said the head of the group’s Nuclear Accident Committee (NAC), Professor Ray Powles.

He said the EBMT on Tuesday asked all its 536 centres by email if they would be able to treat some patients who have suffered radiation exposure from the the quake-hit Fukushima No.1 plant in Japan.

“You will be aware there is real concern about the possibility that a significant number of workers attempting to control the damaged nuclear power station” in Japan may receive “doses or whole body radiation over the next week or so,” said the email, seen by AFP.

“In the unlikely event that many Japanese power station workers are irradiated (but not contaminated), we would like to evaluate the capacity to provide humanitarian treatment in EU countries if Japanese medical resources are overwhelmed.”

Powles told AFP in a telephone interview from London that the workers at the plant will not suffer the effects of the radiation for another three days, “so that’s why we put this in place three days in advance.”

“The actual handling and treating of these patients is actually remarkably easy. We have a training programme, we have a DVD with six or seven critical lectures.”

Experts would merely need to “brush up in three hours on the special needs” of radiation victims.

He said not all the victims would need bone marrow transplants, and many would merely need antibiotics or blood transfusions.

Powles said the costs of transport and treatment as well as immigration issues could be easily overcome, as governments and hospitals would be prepared to ease restrictions.

“If it really does evolve into a major radiation problem and there are several hundred victims, then I think that the humanitarian response on a worldwide basis will be huge.”

“We saw it on the big tsunami” in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004.

Powles helped set up the EBMT’s nuclear accident subcommittee after the terror attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

“You’re looking at 2,500 specialist doctors in 500 centres who can treat people who have bone marrow problems. I could see this was a really good resource if there was a really big radiation incident.”

The head of the EBMT, Professor Alejandro Madrigal, said the NAC has been “practicing training and education and selecting centres of excellence in Europe that could respond to a general emergency in Europe or the world, such as could potentially happen in Japan.”