The postmortem examination or autopsy is an invaluable diagnostic tool. In the past, anatomical dissection and autopsies had been used for teaching anatomy and pathology in a large percentage of medical schools. Unfortunately, the number of autopsies performed for teaching purposes has declined significantly (Parker, 2002). In the article entitled, "AIDS Expert Helps Doctors Learn From Autopsies", Lawrence Altman, M.D. highlights the contributions of Dr. Sebastian Lucas, a British pathologist who has performed more than 1000 autopsies on H.I.V. patients in England and Africa.
Dr. Lucas presented his findings to AIDS scientists who were present at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections from February 10-14, 2003. The scientists, molecular biologists and statisticians who are part of the research team very rarely witness the damage done to the organs and tissues of those afflicted with this virus. Dr. Lucas" purpose for attending the conference and presenting his findings was to encourage all professional members involved in AIDS research to assist in developing a more standardized means of communication so as to greatly improve their understanding of this epidemic. .
Dr. Lucas cited the case of an H.I.V. infected African patient whose skin was covered with hundreds of red spots that led his doctors to believe that he had smallpox. While his physicians tried to diagnosis this patient's ailment, he died. It was through the results of an autopsy that this man's disease was diagnosed. He had succumbed to the cryptococcus fungus, one of the opportunistic infections that can results when a H.I.V. patient's immune system is severely compromised. While clinicians in developed countries can order laboratory testing to assist in diagnosing and identifying pathogens, the clinicians in developing countries must rely on signs and symptoms to diagnose. These developing countries also lack the facilities and the trained personnel to correctly identify these opportunistic infections and so they may be underreported (Thior, 1994).