Promise to improve forensics
Lengthy delays in acquiring forensic test results have harsh effects on the lives of many South Africans, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said
The government hoped to turn around the situation by consistent investment in the study of forensic chemistry and the establishment of a fourth forensic laboratory.
Launching an internship collaboration between the department of health and the University of Pretoria, Motsoaledi said the project would address the massive backlogs at forensic laboratories.
“With this partnership, we believe and we hope that the lives of South Africans will change,” he said.
“This [project] will improve efficiency and turnaround times because of the speed at which the pending cases will be finalised.”
The existing three forensic laboratories in the country were responsible for blood alcohol analysis, toxicology analysis and food analysis.
Motsoaledi said many families were suffering after the passing away of their breadwinners, as insurance companies refused to pay because of outstanding toxicology results — which could cause a delay of more than three years.
He said he wished to emulate how the US had handled the toxicology results of pop superstar Whitney Houston, who died in February.
“They said they were going to announce the results in six weeks and they did. I said what about my country? We would not have been able to do so in South Africa. Never,” said Motsoaledi.
He said the programme would significantly contribute to fighting alcohol abuse, which led to road accidents and fatalities.
“We see an opportunity to contribute to the reduction of road carnage by making results of the tested (blood) samples available within a short space of time. We are still going to launch the big fight against the harm of alcohol through the banning of liquor products.”
Budgeted at R12 million for tuition and accommodation at the campus, the seven-month programme caters for the training of 70 unemployed graduates in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering, drawn from all the provinces.
From November, the trainees will undergo “a further five-month experiential programme” at the country’s forensic laboratories.
“Remember we are training people who have already spent time at university; some of them have honours degrees. We are just introducing them to forensics and we believe the period of one year is enough.”
Government hoped to absorb all the trainees, but Motsoaledi cautioned that employment would be based solely on merit and the outcome of the programme.
“If you want to remain unemployed at the end of twelve months that is your problem. I’m declaring in front of everybody here that l want to employ you, I am waiting for you,” he told the students.
Their continued unemployment was wasted human capital, particularly in a country with a high skills shortage. The minister called for hard work and high ethics from the students, especially when they practised.
“This area of work requires people of high integrity. Some of the blood samples you will be testing will be of very high placed people. It’s not inconceivable to find that Dr Motsoaledi was caught doing drunken driving and I must test the results. What if he comes and says let’s make a deal?”
Motsoaledi said the fourth forensic laboratory would be established in KwaZulu-Natal, to support the existing ones in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.