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Saving Lives in Lima

Peru's atomic energy institute knows about saving lives and the importance of being prepared to do it

Peruvian women

Peruvian women at work. (Photo credit: A. Odoul / FAO)

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Emma Castro of Peru's atomic energy institute knows about saving lives - and the importance of being prepared to do it. When a New Year's fireworks celebration ran out of control in January 2002, sparks ignited fires in a busy commercial plaza in the city center. Nearly 400 people died in the tragic blaze and hundreds more were seriously burned and injured. Eight Lima hospitals and clinics suddenly were faced with saving the lives of severely burned men, women and children.

Fortunately authorities were ready to respond to the emergency.

Working with staff at Peru's medical tissue bank in Lima, Emma and her colleagues worked long hours to prepare, sterilize, and supply the tissue dressings that physicians needed for skin graft treatment of serious burn victims, whose lives hung in the balance. More than 1600 dressings were sterilized and supplied to Lima surgeons.

The efforts helped save the lives of 63 patients who otherwise might not have survived the Lima fire.

Peru's tissue bank is one of seven set up since the early 1990s in Latin America with the IAEA's support, and one of 37 overall in the region. The banks sterilize tissues using radiation technology, working in cooperation with national atomic energy authorities. Irradiation is widely used worldwide for the sterilization of medical tissues and supplies.

"Everyone is now more aware of the reasons why we need tissue banks and irradiation technology," says Emma. "Together they save lives."