Experts attending a dialogue on ethics in the use of emerging medical technologies for DNA testing have expressed a need for a stringent policy that provides for doing paternity tests in early childhood or never.
Speaking at a meeting held at Uganda Management Institute on Tuesday, Prof Noah Kiwanuka, an epidemiologist based at Makerere University School of Public Health said paternity can be determined from as early as when a mother gets pregnant when disastrous effects of such a decision are minimal.
Some of the options he suggests include maternal blood testing within the first thirteen weeks of gestation, testing the amniotic fluid to determine the DNA of the mother and father or doing an autopsy on the umbilical cord.
Apart from that, the doctor says DNA can also be done immediately after the child is born when the bond between the child and father has not been firmly established. For him most of the disappointment and anguish associated with the test arises from the bond created with the child.
His view is shared by Dr. Fredrick Nakwagala who heads Internal Medicine at Mulago National Referral Hospital and calls for clinical guidelines with a checklist to reduce errors and omissions in testing.
He notes however that while there are opportunities for testing early enough, the medical field in Uganda has been very slow at adopting tests for newborns.
This suggestion comes after the Ministry of Health recently launched guidelines for DNA testing which largely focused on testing laboratories.
While this move was meant to sanitize the practice considering concerns arising from a testing craze which saw some families torn apart, experts say the government only addressed part of the problem. They propose a need for a segmentation approach where all aspects of the issue including technological advances, societal norms and the cost are looked into.
Kiwanuka says for instance that policy should offer them clarity on who owns the DNA and what rights individuals biologically related to a person seeking such a test have as a single test can expose the whole family’s genetic material.
However, giving his comments, Prof. William Kaberuka, the Chairperson of the Uganda Policy Development and Management Forum said cultural norms should be given priority when dealing with the DNA issue citing the bible where Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus Christ but was being referred to as a son of a carpenter.
For him, doing paternal tests in old age is unnecessary and detrimental to not just the individuals involved but the whole society.
On his part, Dr. Dominic Lali Mundrugo, the Assistant Secretary General of the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO called for a deeper understanding of the ethical issues suggesting that DNA is not necessary when there is a material father for the child.
For him, the biological father should seek a paternity test earlier on or never for the sake of the general welfare of the individuals involved.