By Robin Muchetu
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing is done when one is trying to establish their genetic makeup, to see what kind of DNA they have and then compare if your parents have the same DNA.
The basic science is that each individual gets their DNA, half from their mother and half from their father, you can establish a relationship based on that. However, a recent production of an online show-The Global DNA Show which reveals paternity tests online has been described as unethical by the Medical and Laboratory and Clinical Scientist Council of Zimbabwe as they are not a registered entity.
In a statement the MLCSCZ chairman Mr Ranganai Mubvumbi said the publication of such results to third parties was unethical.
“Professional code of conduct of various health professionals in Zimbabwe clearly states that divulging either orally or in writing and information concerning a patient or client test results ought not to be divulged to third parties except where so required by law,” he said.
The council said Mr Tinashe Mugabe, who runs the show, did not possess the required qualifications or have legal standing to divulge paternity results. National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Applied Genetics Testing Centre (AGTC) director Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini explained why people are doing DNA tests.
“If you are a child who wants to establish if a certain man is your father, you must find half of your DNA to match with that man 100 percent. It makes our calculations much easier if the mother is tested as well so that we eliminate the DNA of the mother from the child and we have what is remaining to be attributable to the father,” he said.
Mr Dhlamini however, said all DNA testing must be done in earnest and ethically.
“Our lab is registered, so are our scientists, we follow ethics, we do not even advertise that we do DNA testing because being a member of the MLCSCZ it prevents us from making such advertisements, there are ethics to be followed.
When we do DNA testing, we always do pre- counselling before we even collect the sample because we want to establish why someone wants to do DNA testing. At times you can tell that the person seeking the tests wants to create problems.
“Some bring their children alone and say they do not want the mothers to know that they are doing DNA testing. If the child then turns out not to be his, then how will they handle it. In such cases we have to deny that person the test, unless they involve the other party,” he said.
Mr Dhlamini said it is essential to counsel people before testing so as to understand their motivation to test for paternity. He also said some come genuinely seeking to find the paternity of their children as they may have been involved with more than one person.
“We also do not give results over the phone, we bring both parties in and counsel them before results are out so that we prepare them if they are in the negative. We always tell women who come for our services that we do not feel good when results are negative and that we will have rendered that child fatherless, we tell them to bring whoever they think is the father because the child has the right to know his biological parents. Some will come with three other men and none will be the father, it happens,” he said.
He said at NUST they value the privacy of DNA results and will never publicise the results.
Mr Dhlamini said DNA tests are always accurate if done properly.
“A DNA test does not lie, if done properly it can never give you false results. A false negative can happen if samples are mixed up but it’s impossible to have a false positive paternity /maternity DNA test. That can only happen if the testing individual deliberately falsified the result which is an unethical act.”
He said in the case of maternity being at zero as in the case of the Australian based Zimbabwean woman who was told her mother was alive and in Harare and later turned out the maternity tests were negative, he said it could be a case of samples being switched in the laboratory erroneously.
“Human error can happen and mixing up of samples can happen but we at NUST always have to do a thorough test, if a test comes out negative for paternity before we report it, we check all the negatives that will have been done on that day.
We compare the negative tests against each other so that we see that we did not mix up samples. It helps, that is why we do not encourage motherless tests,” said Mr Dhlamini.
Director Child Rights Research Centre, Africa University Dr Tendai Nhenga-Bhunu called for the immediate removal of the DNA Show online.
“The broadcasting of this DNA programme by Tinashe Mugabe must just be taken off air with immediate effect. It can continue behind the cameras out of the public eye if the participants insist. However, it must be taken out of the public domain. As a Child Rights academic, I can firmly affirm that this programme undermines one of the fundamental tenets of child rights- the best interest of the child principle and host of other child/ human rights,” she said.
Dr Nhenga-Bhunu said the effects on the children in school and in the community were damning.
“Imagine the sheer embarrassment the children will face in school and in the community after the sordid details of their parents’ mischiefs have been exposed on TV especially after scandalous DNA test results which bring to question their own identity. This undermines the very dignity and privacy of the children in question and is certainly not in their best interests,” she said.
Dr Nhenga-Bhunu said the programme is potentially damaging to the children concerned (with possible far-reaching consequences on their mental health) and must be canned with immediate effect.
“It is bad enough that the kids may begin to question their own identity as a result, have their mother publicly humiliated and some have their family broken in full public view. We may find this programme amusing but this is wrong on so many levels and violates several constitutional rights of children and women.
“Yes, fathers have the right to know if they indeed are the biological fathers of the children concerned. However, we must always be alive to the fact that the best interests of the child principle take precedence over all else in the manner in which the results of this nature are revealed. And for us to continue watching and supporting this programme and while finding humor in it, means we have completely lost the plot and all humanity as a nation. We have descended into the gutter,” she added. The Sunday News