In Uganda, experts have offered guidance on the optimal timing for conducting DNA testing, emphasizing the imperative of safeguarding the well-being of children should such testing become a necessity. Drawing wisdom from biblical narratives, they invoke the example of Jesus, acknowledged as the son of a carpenter despite not being the biological father of Jesus Christ.
This counsel emerges against the backdrop of a pervasive DNA testing trend in Uganda. The urgency for a policy addressing this phenomenon is underscored by recent instances where children, ensnared in the fervor of DNA testing, have faced stigmatization and abandonment.
The aftermath of test results revealing non-paternity within marital unions has cast a shadow over familial bonds. Recognizing the delicate nature of these revelations, the call for a protective policy resonates, seeking to shield the innocence of children amidst the tumult of genetic scrutiny.
During a discussion on the ethical use of emerging medical technologies for DNA testing, experts emphasized the necessity of a strict policy regarding paternity tests, suggesting they should be conducted either in early childhood or not at all.
At a meeting held at Uganda Management Institute (UMI), Professor Noah Kiwanuka, an epidemiologist from Makerere University School of Public Health, proposed that paternity could be determined as early as during pregnancy, minimizing potential negative consequences to all parties and especially the children.
Kiwanuka reccomended options such as testing maternal blood within the first thirteen weeks of gestation, analyzing amniotic fluid to determine parental DNA, or performing an autopsy on the umbilical cord. He explained that science can give these results as early as twelve weeks.
Additionally, he and Dr. Fredrick Nakwagala, the head of Internal Medicine at Mulago National Referral Hospital, agreed that DNA testing could also be done immediately after the child is born, before a strong bond between the child and father is established. They argued that much of the emotional distress associated with the testing arises from the bond formed with the child.
Kiwanuka emphasized the need for clear policies regarding ownership of DNA and the rights of biologically related individuals, as a single test could expose the genetic material of an entire family.
Dr. Nakwagala advocated for clinical guidelines with a checklist to reduce errors in testing, acknowledging the slow adoption of newborn testing in the Ugandan medical field.
The experts’ recommendations followed the recent launch of Ministry of Health guidelines for DNA testing, primarily focused on testing laboratories. However, they argued that a more comprehensive approach, considering technological advances, societal norms, and costs, is essential.
Professor William Kaberuka, Chairperson of the Uganda Policy Development and Management Forum, urged prioritizing cultural norms in addressing DNA issues. He cited biblical references, citing the bible where Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus Christ but was being referred to as a son of a carpenter. He emphasized that paternal tests in old age are unnecessary and detrimental to individuals and society. For him, doing paternal tests in old age is unnecessary and detrimental to not just to the individuals involved but the whole society.
Dr. Dominic Lali Mundrugo, Assistant Secretary General of the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO, called for a deeper understanding of ethical issues, suggesting that DNA testing is unnecessary when a child has a material father. He proposed that biological fathers should seek paternity tests earlier or not at all for the general welfare of those involved.