The country’s first ever DNA testing centre has been registered with the Medical Laboratory and Clinic Scientists Council of Zimbabwe, bringing local solutions to paternity disputes and other civil and criminal challenges.
Although the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AIBST) is charging US$500 to conclude investigating a case, indications are that the charges will come down as more such facilities are opened.
DNA tests can be done to establish the child’s biological parents in maintenance cases, to establish a rapist in criminal investigations, identify bodies of accident victims, in murder investigations, tracing the family histories in chieftainship wrangles, and many other uses.
Over the years, paternity cases were being referred to South African companies, but AIBST – based in Harare – acquired the requisite DNA equipment and got accreditation mid-last year.
AIBST conducted DNA tests to identify bodies of the victims of the Chisumbanje accident towards the end of 2013.
AIBST president and chief scientific officer Professor Collen Masimirembwa, said the development was a major milestone in the history and development of forensic science in Zimbabwe.
“In Zimbabwe, for a long time, forensic science had remained behind using traditional and manual means like taking finger prints and using the magnifying glass for identification purposes.
“For drug crimes, there were no machines. The police and health (officials) are also working towards buying the same machines that we use here and they have come several times to see how we operate.
“As AIBST, we have invigorated the country. We have acted as a catalyst to prove that Zimbabweans can do it.
“We have brought an evolutionary jump. Suddenly within less than a year, Zimbabwe can now conduct DNA tests putting us at the same level as other countries like South Africa,” said Prof Masimirembwa.
Prof Masimirembwa said their organisation had worked with the Government on the Chisumbanje accident and they were ready to assist the police, courts, hospitals and other State institutions whenever necessary.
Several people were burnt beyond recognition when a Green Fuel tanker was involved in an accident with a Madza T35 light truck that was ferrying mourners in Chipinge last year.
The resultant fire from the ethanol tanker burnt dozens of people beyond recognition and there was fear that family and friends would not be able to give their loved ones proper burials as they could not identify their bodies.
DNA samples were subsequently sent to AIBST.
Prof Masimirembwa said everything was done in Harare at the AIBST laboratory and no samples were sent out to other countries.
“We do everything from here from taking of samples to the presentation and announcement of results,” he said.
AIBST started conducting paternity tests at the end of last year and it was mainly dealing with cases of individuals and families who wanted to ascertain the facts without the involvement of the courts.
“We are assisting individuals and families who make their own decisions to get tested for their own personal reasons but we are yet to get referrals from the courts.
“Maybe the courts are not aware that we are doing the same locally in order for them to refer cases to us,” he said.
Paternity disputes have all along been referred to South African experts for DNA verification.