There is less than a week left for Rwanda to host the African Society of Forensic Medicine (ASFM) conference, with participants coming from all corners of the world.
The two-day event to run from 8th to 10th March 2023 has tabled several issues for discussions including human tissue banking, Management of the dead, Identification of deceased migrants, Disaster response and management, Prevention of gender-based violence, crime scene management and harmonized evidence-based forensic science practice.
Happening for the 10th time, it is themed “Harmonization of Evidence-Based Forensic Science Practice in Africa- A Holistic Approach Towards a Safer Continent.” It also aims at discussing improvement of forensic science practices on the African continent.
According to Dr. Charles Karangwa, Director General of Rwanda Forensic Laboratory (RFL) over 300 foreigners have registered to attend the event.
He made the observation during an inclusive interview with KT Press on March 2.
“Many people have confirmed attendance, from all continents of the world. Some have finished booking hotels, and paid the air tickets. The participation is expected to be big. Various experts have a lot to share with us. Locally, we have about 40 hospitals that we work with, and about 120 local doctors will attend to hear how similar services are offered elsewhere,” Dr. Karangwa said.
“It will be a right time for self-evaluation, where we are, and how/where to improve. Forensic is the heart of justice, without forensic evidence, you have a weak justice system,” he added.
Dr. Karangwa pointed out that police officials, prosecutors, forensic scientists, university professors and other experts will participate in discussing ways of improving forensic services.
Why Tissue banking?
Among the topics tabled for discussions include tissue banking in the country. Tissue banking is a medical process where tissue, such as heart valves, bone tissue, skin, ligaments, parts of the eye and pancreas tissue, is removed from a dead donor and transplanted into another person.
A draft bill on the use of human organs, tissues, and cells, will allow Rwandans of 18+ years to donate these vital organs. The purpose of the law is to establish legislation for transplant surgery services and teaching programs for fellowship.
“The law will direct us how it will be done. However, in international laws, a person accepts and signs, …..saying if I am dead, agree to donate my tissue, or any of my body parts. The deceased could have some body parts in good condition and had earlier agreed to donate them to young people who need to work for the country,” Dr. Karangwa added.
“There are various laws for each country. Every country has its own culture. It is new in Rwanda, and citizens are not used to it. However, there is a sensitization project planned for people to understand this. It is done voluntarily for any person to donate part of his/her body when one has died,” he added.
In October last year, a draft law on the use of human organs, tissues, and cells was put forth by the Ministry of Health to make it legal for Rwandans older than 18 to donate these life-saving organs.
Once the law is passed some local hospitals including King Faisal Hospital will reportedly start kidney transplants. The move is expected to save life and money.
For example, due to a lack of such treatments, Rwanda sent 67 individuals for kidney transplants overseas in the last seven years, at a cost of $12,000 per patient or $804,000 in total.
The tissue banking sparked discussion among MPs, who largely want clarity on many areas of personal and national advantages, security, and legal ramifications. Nevertheless, they authorised it for further discussion in the committee meetings before the time sought.
During the ASFM conference experts are expected to discuss best ways of tissue banking in the country.
External forensic lab deals
In the same conference, local officials will be discussing how to establish forensic laboratories in several countries and train foreigners, among the efforts expected to extend services to communities across the continent. According to the organizers (RFL), several people who seek forensic lab services come from west and southern African countries and the conference will be the right time to discuss possible ways to extend services to them.
“Clients need to be available physically, they travel from their countries to Kigali for forensic services. It is costly. We have a plan of changing the strategy and find them in their countries. We can establish labs and train people, and give them certificates. They can collect samples and send them,” he added.
“We are discussing that, and in the conference, we shall have side meetings,” Dr. Karangwa stated.
He pointed out that among the organizations and countries to discuss forensic lab partnerships include Foundation Chantal Biya, Somalia forensic lab scientists, and South Africa companies.
The RFL, host of the ASFM conference, began providing convenient services to the judiciary, members of the private sector, and residents in 2018 following the adoption of the statute establishing RFL in 2016.
It was established as an independent entity that year and is currently managed by the Ministry of Justice. It is equipped with cutting-edge technology and is staffed with professionals and experts who can perform forensic investigations to improve the administration of justice.
RFL offers a range of services, such as forensic pathology, digital forensics, fingerprint analysis, drug and chemical analysis, document examination, and forensic toxicology.