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Technology 'critical' to investigating deaths

30 August 2013, 08:21 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - The introduction of technology can speed up post mortems and result in more efficient cause of death investigations, a top pathologist has said.

Though technology has high upfront costs, it has the ability to give higher speed turnarounds for sudden deaths which could save resources in the long term.

"Politicians are beginning to recognise that there are real consequences to not funding facilities appropriately. The first hit is your ability to take care of the public's health," Dr David Fowler, State of Maryland chief forensic pathologist told News24.

Fowler, originally from Zimbabwe, practised in Cape Town before heading to the US and is familiar with the state of pathology in SA.

"I think the South African experience and the American experience are pretty similar. It’s just timing; we’re two or three or four years ahead of where the Western Cape is in their plans and resources," he said.


The Western Cape is a well-resourced province in terms of its capacity to conduct post mortems, said the health department.

"In the Western Cape, we're very fortunate; we’ve got very supportive top management in terms of ensuring we've got the necessary skills and capacity," Bonita Thompson, director of Forensic Pathology for the Western Cape province.

The province has 18 facilities and sees around 10 000 sudden death cases per year.

One of the technologies that has made a difference is the Lodox Statscan full body X-Ray machine.

Given that 30% of the cases seen in the Western Cape are murders, the machine can give the pathologist an instant view of where in the body foreign objects, like bullets may be.

This makes extraction for court cases easier and allows the department to conduct speedier examinations and expedites the release of the remains.

Fowler said that the technology used in pathology has only recently come into use in the field.

"We have access to all of the new high-tech resources that you would like to see in a forensics unit: Things that our colleagues in the clinical practice have been using for 20 and 30 years. We are only getting access to these now in the last three or four years."

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