Interview: “Our Tests Will Be 50 Per Cent Cheaper”

Prof. Fidelis Cho-Ngwa, Head of DNA Laboratory, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Buea, talks on the process of certifying the laboratory.

 

The University of Buea operates a DNA laboratory, a rare facility in Central Africa. How did it begin?

We started research in 2014 and since then, we have been training Master’s degree students in Molecular Diagnostics. We have so far carried out 15 “peace of mind tests” on Cameroonians since 2015. The tests are so called because they were not ordered by any court. However, they enabled the clients to know whether they were biological parents or children of some people. I head the laboratory and have a number of people working with me, especially those who obtained the Master’s degree in Molecular Diagnostic Science the university runs. We have now changed the appellation of the degree to Molecular Epidemiology and Diagnostic Science, to broaden the scope.

Is the laboratory open to the public?

We have not yet gone on a business scale. It’s still a research platform, but we provide some services to the public. For us to go business, we will need to first get the laboratory certified. For now, the DNA laboratory is certified for drug discovery for Onchocerciasis, a Pan-African ANDI Centre of Excellence, but not for Human Molecular Diagnostics. This is why we have not yet extended to the legal platform. In the months ahead, we hope to engage government and the university to get to the level whereby we can seek certification. If this is achieved, courts, social and immigration cases, and even identification of remains of accident and fire victims, etc, can be referred to us.

Are there other DNA laboratories in Cameroon?

I am not aware of any other DNA testing laboratory in the country. We know that people collect samples and send abroad and wait for results to give to their clients. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to install a DNA laboratory in Cameroon. Some other laboratories may have some of the machines, but not the technological know-how or trained personnel we boast. We collect samples and finish everything in the same laboratory. For now, we don’t use sophisticated machines since we don’t have them yet. We use robust, time-consuming manual methods to arrive at exactly the same results. We have been all over the world and have been teaching the science in the University of Buea. We have mastered the technology and now carry out research in Molecular Epidemiology and Diagnostic Science.

What is the cost of your services?

We will not charge less than 200,000 FCFA for simple tests. Abroad, people pay between 300,000 FCFA and 500,000 FCFA for such tests; plus the cost of collecting, preparing and sending samples and money. Overall, our tests will be about 50 per cent cheaper. The other advantage is that you can do the test in person. The distance that samples have to be transported is eliminated and the trouble of handling them is avoided.

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