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Wednesday April 24, 2024

KP’s DNA lab set to start functioning today

By Mushtaq Yusufzai
February 06, 2018

PESHAWAR: After a lot of hurdles and delaying tactics created by the vested interests, the first deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) lab of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is set to start functioning today. The facility has been established at the Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department of the Khyber Medical College (KMC) in Peshawar.

The issue of having DNA facility in KP would have remained ignored for years had the recent sexual assault and subsequent murder of a minor girl Asma in Gujjar Garhi in Mardan not embarrassed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government and the Police Department.

It was after PTI chief Imran Khan interfered in the sexual assault and murder of another 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 and particularly when they learnt that KP didn’t have a DNA facility and the samples of Mardan sexual assault were sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA).

Efforts for having the DNA facility in KP were first started in 2013 and according to senior government officials and senior faculty members of KMC, the only person who initiated the project and knocked at each and every door of those at the helm of affairs was Prof Hakim Afridi, the head of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Department at the KMC.

“May Allah give a long and prosperous life to Prof Hakim Afridi as I knew him using all his connections and even used to request his friends and relatives to help him seek assistance of politicians in the government and other functionaries in establishing the DNA lab. Had he been born in Punjab, I am sure the government would have rewarded him for his glorious efforts and achievements,” said a senior faculty member of the college while pleading anonymity.

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.In 2015 when the PTI government introduced health reforms, some of the doctors and health workers opposing reforms and administrative changes challenged the MTI Act 2105 in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and obtained a stay order against new recruitment.

It was after the stay order was vacated in March 2017 after causing a huge damage to the system, the KMC administration applied for kits required for DNA analysis and hired highly qualified molecular biologists for the lab.Officials of KP Health Department told The News that the government had never refused providing funds whenever the college needed for DNA lab and other research activity.

“The KMC administration applied for purchase of DNA kits in March 2017 after KP government provided Rs5 million to the college two years for purchase of DNA kits and other necessary items. The supply didn’t take place due a host of reasons. One major reason was the lengthy and faulty procurement process of KMC and Khyber Teaching Hospital,” said the Health Department official.

The college paid 21580 US dollars for purchase of DNA kits. “It is like you put the world’s best gun in the hands of your bodyguard but there are no bullets with the gun. The KP government spent huge funds on purchase of costly equipment but didn’t bother to provide kits to the department,” said the official.

When reached, Prof Hakim Afridi confirmed that they would begin the DNA services from Tuesday.He said they had received three DNA kits and every kit is enough for conducting 100 DNA analyses.

“I am so happy today as our efforts and campaign finally yielded results. The only purpose of my efforts for having a DNA lab in KP was to help the poor people of this province and Fata so they don’t need travelling to Lahore for the same facility,” remarked Prof Hakim Afridi. Secretary Health Abid Majeed is stated to have played a very positive role in getting the DNA lab its equipment and later providing funds for DNA kits.

Health experts believe that the DNA lab in Peshawar would become a centre of excellence in near future as it is established in an academic institute where students would be trained.“There should be no comparison between the Punjab Forensic Science Agency and the DNA Lab in Peshawar. They established it in 2010 with a huge cost of Rs4 billion, besides donations from the Australian government. They have Rs600 million annual budget with 54 analysts and 15 disciplines in Punjab. While the DNA Lab in Peshawar was established in 2015 with a very small cost and only two molecular biologists were hired to operate it,” said a government official.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata have suffered heavy losses due to terrorism and violence since 2001 but forensic medicine and toxicology that deals with the knowledge of medicines to help trace culprits and enforce law for administration of justice both in civil and criminal cases remained ignored during these years.

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.

Also, the department has been providing training in forensic medicine to the undergraduate medical students of KMC and the postgraduate students including FCPS trainees from all over the country.