Govt permits only 2 labs to do DNA tests

Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng addresses journalists in Kampala on July 10, 2023. PHOTO/HANDOUT

What you need to know:

  • DNA tests are conducted using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, an equipment that is available in many health facilities and research centres. 

The Health Ministry has named private laboratory MBN and Government Analytical Laboratory as the only accredited facilities allowed to do deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) paternity tests in the country. 

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health Minister, while announcing this in Kampala yesterday, said the two laboratories are the only ones that have met the requirements of accreditation to conduct the tests whose demand has been soaring in the country in the past month, partly because of trust deficit.

The minister said the two laboratories have highly skilled personnel, the right infrastructure, and clear quality control and quality assurance protocols, in addition to having international accreditation.  

“For now, there are only two laboratories that have fulfilled that criteria [for accreditation]. That is why they are doing the testing… Any other laboratory that feels it is ready will be accredited using the vigorous accreditation criteria,” Dr Aceng told journalists.

She added: “Government Analytical Laboratory and MBN clinical laboratory have indicated that 7 out of 10 paternity disputes that sought testing turned out to be positive biological relationships, and only 3/10 are negated biological relationships, thus confirming the grounds of dispute.”

This means the majority of tests confirmed that the complaining fathers were the actual fathers of the children they thought were fathered by other men. 

The Government Analytical Laboratory is based in Wandegeya, Kampala while MBN has its headquarters in Kampala but with branches across the country. The owner of the MBN laboratory couldn’t be established by press time. During the media engagement, Dr Aceng refuted reports that there is a DNA paternity testing crisis in the country. 

She said DNA paternity testing has been ongoing in the country for close to 20 years and it has been routinely used to resolve paternity and kinship disputes.

“However, social media reports of child neglect, homicide, and even suicide following the issuance of negative paternity tests have created the impression of a DNA paternity testing crisis,” the minister said.
As a result, Dr Aceng said the public has gone further to question the “validity and integrity of DNA paternity testing results, the credibility of the persons and laboratories conducting the tests”.  

There have also been concerns that DNA results might be wrong due to defective machines, incompetence or errors by specialists, or inadvertent sample or results switches. 

DNA tests are conducted using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, an equipment that is available in many health facilities and research centers. The machine is the same one used for testing Covid-19 and other infectious agents. 

The sensitive paternity test results, some women leaders and religious leaders who are against paternity testing drive, said risks splitting families and causing enormous pain to the affected children.

Last week, Gender minister Betty Amongi argued that sometimes it is husbands to blame when women have children with other men because they are either unavailable for their wives or philandering.

In other instances, the minister argued, women are desperate and pressured by families of the husband to produce a boy child as heir-apparent, tempting them to try their luck elsewhere when children sired with a husband are all girls.

Owing to the above concerns, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa last week directed the government on the need to have stronger regulation and guide the nation on DNA tests. He asked Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja to present a statement on the DNA testing situation to Parliament this week. 
Minister Aceng said yesterday that because of the above concerns, they have been engaging owners of laboratories, and different government ministries, departments, and agencies to strengthen the regulation of the tests.

She said the Ministry of Health has planned to “develop and implement guidelines to streamline DNA paternity testing to ensure quality, legal, ethical and professional practices are adhered to”.  

The Minister also said they are fast-tracking the “enactment of the DNA evidence and database bill proposed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs”.

Fake labs, kits
Dr Aceng also revealed that several laboratories have come out purporting to do DNA paternity testing whereas they only collect samples and ship them for testing elsewhere either within or outside the country.

She also said some unscrupulous agents might have smuggled fake equipment, reagents or kits for DNA paternity testing into the country. 

“I have been informed of some rapid diagnostic tests purported to be home-based DNA Test kits, some of which are available online; these tests have not been validated [not approved] to be used in Uganda. Therefore, they aren’t allowed into the country whether for use in public or in the private sector,” she said. 

Dr Aceng added: “I have instructed the department of national health laboratory and diagnostic services of the Ministry of Health to work with the National Drug Authority and Uganda Revenue Authority to ensure these fake DNA rapid test kits and other search fake laboratory supplies are gotten rid of and not allowed into the country.”