KP’s first DNA testing lab to start operation next month

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The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department is seeking international help for training of staff before launching the province’s first DNA testing laboratory at the Khyber Medical College (KMC).


. The laboratory is being set up at a cost of Rs45 million at the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department of KMC where the authorities have created space to house new equipment purchased from the US-based manufacturers.


A new purpose-built building is being constructed at a cost of Rs35 million where the lab would be shifted when construction is completed in two years.


The militancy-stricken province is desperately in need of DNA testing laboratory in view of the terror attacks and other crimes like sexual assaults, identification of human bodies and paternity issues. Presently, in most of such cases, the police use force to extract confessional statements from the accused in criminal cases, but they deny their confession when presented before the court.


However, once the DNA laboratory would become operational, investigations will be carried out on scientific lines where denial by criminals wouldn’t be possible.


Currently, specimens were being sent to Islamabad and Lahore from where not only results were received belatedly, but Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 were charged per single specimen.


Health department set to seek foreign help for training staff

The DNA testing at KMC will also enable the courts to ensure speedy justice because results of tests will be made available quickly and at lower charges.


Several moves to establish DNA lab in past have failed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to lack of interest by the government. In 2011-12, the government also bought equipment to start DNA labs in Bannu Medical College, Bacha Khan Medical College, Mardan, and Khyber Girls Medical College, Peshawar, but the pieces of equipment were yet to be installed.


According to health officials, the KMC’s administration has also written to the government in January this year, stating that setting up of DNA testing laboratory is a highly technical issue which needs trained experts. The establishment of such laboratories in different institutions of the province with limited resources isn’t feasible, it said.


To avoid wastage of costly equipment, it was suggested that the equipment from those colleges be transferred to KMC which was already in the process of setting up such a laboratory. The health department officials also want the government to expedite the process of appointment on 13 new posts, already sanctioned by the chief minister, for the DNA laboratory.


The most modern equipment have the capacity to process eight samples in 40 minutes, but before its launching the staff required training. The officials said that the government was likely to approach the Australian embassy in Islamabad because it had previously hinted at training of the staff.


They said that according to the international DNA Advisory Board the staff should be imparted six-month training so they could perform their work effectively. They said that through DNA tests the government could ensure dispensation of justice on scientific lines by tracing the real culprits.


Officials in KMC said that the lab was also required to provide training to medical students on the new technology who would then be deployed in the province’s medical colleges.


Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2014