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Spreading Surgical Skill

Even under the best of circumstances, operations can take a toll, physically and emotionally. Patients in developed countries often are able to take advantage of a less invasive approach called endoscopic surgery.

A Japanese university is working to make the method more widely available in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is trying to cope with an increase in colon cancer cases. An aging population may have something to do with the problem. Some people believe the spread of western-style food may also be a factor.

Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok is the country's largest hospital. It treats 2 million patients per year, with about a thousand doctors on staff.

The hospital is part of Mahidol University. Ten years ago, it set up a facility dedicated to endoscopic surgery. That method could help with some of the colon cancer cases.

However, only 20 of its surgeons know how to do the procedure. The country has a lack of training opportunities.

So, Siriraj asked Japan's Oita University to help. The university is known for endoscopic practice and research.

In June, five surgeons from Oita went to Siriraj for a teaching session.

"As you know that, Japan is one of the most advanced technology in surgery, especially for laparoscopic or endoscopic surgery," said Vitoon Chinswangwatanakul, assistant dean at Siriraj. "So we decided to set up this kind of collaboration for the base of our trainees."

The training lasted two days. The first day covered operation of the endoscope and tools for grasping and removing tumors.

The participants used equipment made by a Japanese company. The flexible moving head is equipped with a camera.

Watching the monitor, the trainees excised a piece of chicken serving as a tumor.

Most were young physicians with little experience in the technique.

"This angle is very important," the doctor said. "You never (go) beyond this line."

"I think it is difficult," a student said. "This is the first time for me to practice laparoscopic skill."

On the second day, they took part in a simulated surgery, using the same equipment.

The four-hour procedure highlighted the importance of attention to detail.

"We had the first time, so it's so difficult for me," a student says. "He teaches me step by step. It was really good."

"I think young Thai doctors have learned Japan's medical techniques," said Masafumi Inomata, a professor at Oita University. "We hope to keep helping them develop their surgical skills."

The two-year program will train 100 Thai surgeons through six sessions. The trainees will come to Oita next year.

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