DA Requests Emergency Funding for National Forensic Labs [press release]

I will write to Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, to urge him to grant emergency funding to the Forensic Chemical Laboratories (in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and the new one under construction in Durban) to improve their efficiencies and speed up the elimination of backlogs.

The war against drunk driving requires swift and severe justice, neither of which can be had when results of the mandatory blood alcohol tests take so long to complete.

I visited the Cape Town laboratory in Woodstock this past Thursday. The laboratory, which analyses blood samples for the 3 Cape Provinces (Eastern, Northern and Western Cape) had reduced its unprocessed samples from 30,076 to 15,248 between January and November 2014, a noteworthy achievement. But to get it to zero requires funding to double the number of laboratory assistants to service the forensic analysts who do the chemical analysis.

Since breathalyser results are not regarded as valid and reliable after the so-called Drager case, the swift delivery of credible blood alcohol results are critical in getting drunk driving convictions. They are also necessary to settle insurance claims and inheritance estates. It is therefore of the greatest importance that Motsoaledi make the proper investments in the laboratories that fall under his governance. He committed to doing so in September 2009, but progress is frustrated by the slow and dolorous march of his bureaucracy.

The Health Department’s 20132014 Annual Report committed R30m for capital goods for the 3 laboratories. This is a drop in the ocean. If Motsoaledi wants to take the war against drunk driving seriously (the recent Lancet all-cause and cause-specific 2014 mortality study confirmed that road accidents, half of the deaths for which are caused by drunk drivers or involve drunk pedestrians, is the fifth more serious cause of death in South Africa) he must ramp up his technology, management and staffing commitments.

Compared to other middle-income countries, we have a high alcohol abstention rate (59,4% of South Africans over 15 years of age abstained from having alcohol between 2013-2014 as reported in the World Health Organisation 2014 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health). But those who drink drink excessively and there is worrying rise in binge drinking among young men and women who increasingly are the cause of a rising tide of deaths on our roads.

A November 2013 response to a parliamentary question recorded that it took on average 11 months to return laboratory results for blood alcohol tests (it takes a day to do the actual test). A year later the projected time frame is 5 months, an improvement, but still unacceptably slow.

Cities and Provinces are looking for innovative solutions including mobile laboratories and collaborations with university and private sector chemical pathology laboratories.

Wilmot James

DA Federal Chairperson

Source : Democratic Alliance