VIFM has a world class Disaster Victim Identification department. Many of its forensic experts have worked tirelessly in areas of international disaster and distress such as the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Burma, East Timor, the West Bank, the Asian tsunami and closer to home, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 in Victoria.
As part of the Institute’s strategic plan, the decision was made to develop these activities into an integrated specialist team rather than the rely on the activities of a small number of medical and scientific specialists Forensic expertise from Australia and more specifically from this specialist team at the VIFM has now been expanded to include training and assistance for other nations in building local and regional capacity to respond to disasters.
This activity adds to the sustainability of the Institute services makes working at the VIFM more fulfilling, In particular it differentiates us from other forensic service employers in circumstances where there is a world wide shortage of forensic pathologists and forensic physicians.
Forensic medicine encompasses forensic pathology and clinical forensic medicine and is a very small medical specialty but a crucial one right at the heart of the criminal justice system.
DVI in Developing Countries
Developed countries have difficulty providing forensic medicine training because of the tiny size of the specialty. It is unrealistic to think that these countries will be able to develop their own forensic medicine training without support.
Developing the capacity of forensic pathologists to meet the demands of their profession in developing countries is often associated with personal risk, as their work involves decision making which can be pivotal to the proper administration of justice.
VIFM was successful in being awarded funding by the Australian Federal Police to train eight African medical graduates over the next five years, through a Masters of Forensic Medicine, each graduate doing two years study, one at home by distance education, and one in Melbourne. The first two trainees are from Uganda and Kenya and will arrive in Melbourne in 2011.
In conjunction with this, The Australian Federal Police and the VIFM hosted the Inaugural Forum on Forensic Pathology in Botswana in May. This was the first time a meeting of this kind had been held in Africa and was well attended by international organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and World Health Organisation, senior judicial experts from Canada and Australia as well as African delegates.
A key component of the forum was to begin the process of some continuing education for existing practitioners, to sensitise participants to the importance of developing networks, and to begin building competencies in the organisation of the forensic response to disasters, i.e. disaster victim identification (DVI).
The most significant outcomes of this forum include the development of an African Network of Forensic Medicine as well as a commitment of support from the AFP and the ICRC to support VIFM in hosting a Pan-African forum in Uganda in 2011.
The Institute in partnership with the ICRC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat was also involved in developing a three day workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia in March 2010 for nine of the 10 member states to improve preparedness in disaster victim identification and human remains management. This was a very positive beginning and produced a number of recommendations which are being discussed with ICRC and the AFP in order to optimise the opportunities to provide capacity training in this area.
As a result of this the Institute will facilitate a first responders workshop with the Malaysian Civil Defence related to body management and disaster victim identification in partnership with the ICRC.
Other initiatives and support provided by the Institute include a sexual violence training workshop for police and medical practitioners in Africa in March 2011, in partnership with the AFP developing a four-five year post-graduate professional and academic forensic medicine training program in the UAE; and the awarding of the Director’s Scholarship in post-graduate training to a medical practitioner from Sri Lanka.
In addition to the focus in Africa and Asia, there have been an increasing number of international organisations requesting training and/or information sessions at the Institute.