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Deficiency marred forensic lab fast losing utility

May 27, 2013

PESHAWAR, May 26: The department of forensic medicine and toxicology is fast losing its utility as an academic entity and an investigative arm of police due to deficiency in equipment and human resources, sources said.

The department, an important educational facility of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s elite public sector Khyber Medical College, said knowledgeable experts, was constrained to discharge its academic and investigative functions with aged equipment and insufficient number of medico-legal officers, representing a picture of bureaucratic apathy and negligence on the part of the previous government.

“The facility has a 40 year old X-ray machine that has been out of order for the last two years,” said a well-placed official of the provincial government, adding “the department is relying on a portable machine for its day-to-day operational necessities.”

The department has a total of three freezers with a capacity to store four dead bodies each. These freezers, according to sources, are meant for temporary storage purposes and they are operated at four centigrade temperature and above.

Had ICRC not donated a heavy duty electricity generator, the department, said an official, would have found immensely difficult to operate its freezers amidst unrelenting power outages.

Its prime purpose is to teach Khyber Medical College’s students medical sciences, including forensic medicine and toxicology. Besides, the facility is of immense significance to the investigation branch of the provincial police and criminal justice system in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Apart from conducting a large number of autopsies, the department of forensic medicine and toxicology, said the official, conducted tests into around 1,000 suspected poisoning cases, 100 to 150 sexual assault cases, 500 to 600 age examination cases, and 200 to 300 physical assault cases.

“Each one of its seven medico legal officers conducts, on average, 180 autopsies per year, which is far higher than 60 to 70 autopsies conducted by an officer annually in the modern world,” said the source.

The department, added the official, did not have a female medico legal officer as a result of which, at times, the facility found it really hard to follow the rules while conducting postmortem examination of the women homicidal victims or victims of physical assault cases.

The situation, according to a knowledgeable source, becomes difficult for the authorities concerned to adhere to the official rules concerning the collection of samples of female victims of sexual assault cases if both of its female demonstrators are not around.

“The department is in the process of hiring four female medico legal officers,” an official of the department of forensic sciences and toxicology told Dawn when contacted. The official said that the department would need four more female officers to discharge its role effectively.

The department, according to sources, has seen its workload growing significantly, over the past few years, due to terrorism related cases on top of its routine workload.

In the early years of terrorist strikes in Peshawar and areas around it, dead bodies of the victims of bomb blasts were used to be taken to the department of forensic medicine and toxicology.

Later, the policy was changed due to increase in the terrorism wave. Now, the dead bodies of unidentified victims of bomb blasts and bodies of victims from among officials, including members of law enforcement agencies, and those civilians who fall victims to a bomb blast in a nearby locality are brought here.

“The facility is overburdened and can’t handle all of the terrorism related cases,” said an official, adding “for the last few years bodies of the victims and the injured of bomb blasts are taken to nearby hospitals and only the corpse or body remains of the suicide bombers are taken to the department of forensic medicine and toxicology.”

He said the facility had seen several of its medico-legal officers departing to take jobs elsewhere in the province, adding to problems because of insufficiently trained staff. “No one wants to stay here because medico-legal officers find their job highly unpleasant, depressing, and tense,” said the official, adding “many among the doctors who posted here in the recent past maneuvered from their first day on job here to get transferred elsewhere.”

Perhaps, the government, he added, should recruit more medico-legal officers to reduce workload and announce some special allowance to make people stay longer, avoiding the department to lose trained staff after every six months to one year.