Sunday March 26, 2023

A DNA facility that KP can be proud of

February 04, 2023

PESHAWAR: It was not less than a surprise and shock for the hardworking staff of the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department of the Khyber Medical College (KMC) in Peshawar when top government officials claimed that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa does not have the DNA facility.

The statement came first from the provincial police chief Moazam Jah Ansari and then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, saying that the province doesn’t have a DNA test facility.

The prime minister, while chairing the Apex Committee meeting, accused Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leadership, saying the KP government had received Rs417 billion in 13 years but it neither spent those funds on developing infrastructure such as safe city project or establishing DNA lab in the province.

They were apparently not aware of the facts that KP had in fact established the same facility in 2018.

No doubt it was a difficult task, there was a full-fledged Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department at the Khyber Medical College (KMC) but it was a dream of head of the department Prof Hakim Afridi to establish deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) lab in the same premises.

He fought all alone in the past many years and knocked each and every door for seeking support of the government as if he was doing it for himself.

Prof Hakim Afridi finally succeeded in his mission and got Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the first DNA lab.

Also, it would have not been established even now, had PTI leader Imran Khan not taken its note after the sexual assault and murder of a minor girl, Zainab, in Kasur district in Punjab that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership and its activists questioned PTI’s claims of change in the province.

They had challenged PTI at that time that they could not establish a DNA lab in KP and the samples of Mardan sexual assault victim were sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA).

Prof Hakim had initiated his efforts for the DNA facility in 2013. Only he and his team members were aware of the hardships they faced in getting approval for the lab, arranging funds and hunting skilled people for the lab.

Also, not a single individual in the government acknowledged their services and rather ignored them when Prof Hakim Afridi attempted to seeking their attention in resolving major issues related to the DNA lab.

Since its inception, the DNA lab processed 650 cases and received more than 10,000 samples from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Despite the fact that the DNA lab is in short of professional experts, they had done a great job in DNA profiling of a number of important cases and is known for providing the best quality and timely services in KP.

The lab has presently one each molecular biologist and serologist, and could neither hire more people nor procure equipment and materials due to lack of funds.

It has become a liability and a burden for the KP’s first and oldest medical college, KMC.

Since it is governed by the Board of Governors (BoG) of Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), the BoG gives online budget to the college and the college then spends from its own resources on the DNA lab.

The Punjab government had owned the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA), which has become an autonomous body and besides getting funds from the Punjab government, it is also receiving huge financial support from international organisations.

The DNA lab in KP has become an unwanted child. Nobody has owned it, including the previous PTI government. Former minister for health and finance Taimur Jhagra always remained active on social media to take the credit for the good he had no contribution to but he never gave time to people who wanted to discuss genuine issues related to his department.

In Pakistan, no medical college is running a DNA lab, and hence it is high time for the caretaker chief minister Mohammad Azam Khan to address genuine concerns of the KMC administration regarding the DNA lab.

Better the chief minister brings it under the administrative control of health or home and tribal affairs department so the college can focus on its own teaching activities.

“One DNA process costs Rs50,000 and the government doesn’t pay a single penny to the department. This department is in fact serving the public department and made its job of investigation easier so better the police department is to be made to pay for the DNA tests and kits required for DNA analysis,” said an official of the college.

Kit prices are raised with increase in dollar value. The department had procured kits a year ago but they were spent on the case of the Peshawar police lines attack.

The KP government had purchased state-of-the-art equipment for DNA laboratory in Peshawar and installed it in 2015, but they could not hire technical staff for the facility due to litigation.

The Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department receives majority of referral cases from all over the province.

The police in Pakistan are depending on the decade-old investigation system and in the modern world, culprits are easily being traced due to latest research and advancement in the field of forensic medicine and toxicology.

In KP, forensic medicine and toxicology as a subject existed at KMC since its inception in 1954 but a full-fledged department was set up in 1990.

Since then the department has been handling medico-legal cases, offering autopsy services and expert opinion by specialists to the entire province.