Minister of Health launches Forensic Toxicology Programme at the University of Pretoria

Posted on April 11, 2012

He was speaking at the official launch of the Forensic Toxicology Programme that will be presented by the division Continuing Education at the University of Pretoria and will be attended by 70 unemployed graduates in Chemistry, Biochemistry and Chemical Engineering.

According to Dr Motsoaledi, there are currently 85 forensic toxicologists in the country and this number is expected to double by the end of this year. The minister hopes that this will speed up the release of toxicology results in the country, as most South Africans are frustrated with the delay caused by the backlog at forensic laboratories.

He made his point by mentioning turnaround times in the USA where, after the death of world-renowned singer Whitney Houston, it was promised that toxicology results would be released within six weeks, as indeed they were. Dr Motsoaledi admitted that a six-week time frame was unattainable in South Africa, where ordinary citizens sometimes wait for more than three years for the toxicology results of a person who died of unnatural causes.

The Forensic Toxicology Programme is being offered by the division Continuing Education at the University of Pretoria in partnership with the Department of Health. Historically, the Department of Health has always interacted with CE@UP by sending employees in its forensic chemistry laboratories to complete a certificate course in Toxicology. This partnership has now been extended to empower unemployed graduates by offering them an internship programme with a view to appointing successful students at one of the three forensic chemistry laboratories under the Department of Health.

The graduates were recruited by way of an advertisement placed by the Department of Health in the press. Out of 184 applicants, 70 unemployed graduates have been accepted for the internship programme in Forensic Toxicology.

Dr Motsoaledi explained that by partnering with the University of Pretoria, he hoped to develop and impart skills to these students and later expose them to the forensic laboratories of the Department of Health. He pointed out that forensic chemistry laboratories are important not only for the Department of Health, but also for the Departments of Transport and Agriculture, among others.

The National Department of Health’s three forensic chemistry laboratories are based in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. They serve the entire country and are responsible for the following three most important functions:

  • blood-alcohol analysis in suspected drunk driving cases;
  • toxicology analysis for blood and human organs to test for the presence of drugs and poison in cases of unnatural death; and
  • food analysis in terms of the Foodstuffs and Cosmetics Act.

According to the minister, these facilities are not sufficient to serve the entire country, which has necessitated plans to expand the service by opening a fourth laboratory in KwaZulu-Natal. He added that the graduates’ training in the field of forensic toxicology will also provide them with valuable work experience.

“Historically the Department of Health has not been effective in rendering the above three services, but in partnership with the University of Pretoria greater efficiency will be achieved and turnaround times should improve. We believe and hope that the lives of South Africans will be changed because of the greater speed with which pending cases are being finalised,” said Dr Motsoaledi.

He added that apart from attracting young talent, the internship programme will also address unemployment and skills shortages. The graduates will undergo seven months’ theoretical training at the division Continuing Education at the University of Pretoria, followed by a five-month period of experiential training at the Department of Health’s laboratories. Graduates who successfully complete the programme will be employed in the Department of Health.

Dr Motsoaledi encouraged students to persevere and display commitment to finish the Forensic Toxicology Programme. “Our expectations of you are very high, and I count on you to use your skills to serve your country and to improve the lives of South Africans,” he concluded.

The Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Nthabiseng Ogude, said that the University of Pretoria is a leading provider of both formal training and continuing education, which has been strengthened in the University’s 2025 Strategic Plan. She stated that one of the key goals of this Strategic Plan is to enhance the impact of the University on the social and economic development of the country. “The University of Pretoria strives to be relevant to the needs of society and continuously addresses challenges and problems facing it,” she added.

Prof Ogude said that the launch of the Forensic Toxicology Programme demonstrates the University of Pretoria’s desire to contribute by harnessing the expertise that is used primarily for formal programmes to develop continuing academic initiatives.

Prof Ogude conceded that the current status of forensic toxicology is a matter of great concern in this country, especially as far as services rendered to the criminal justice system are concerned, but pointed out that the new programme to be presented at the University of Pretoria will make a significant contribution towards improving scarce forensic toxicology skills.

Mr Matome Seoka, who obtained a BSc degree in Chemistry from the University of Limpopo in 2006 and is currently unemployed, said that if he completes the programme successfully, he will be able to improve the lives of South Africans. His background and his theoretical knowledge of chemistry will be relevant to the programme content.

Seated with the students in the front row (from left to right): Maryke Groenewald: Forensic Toxicology Course Coordinator, Estelle Viviers: Manager Client Specific Programmes, Prof Egmont Rohwer: Head of Department of Chemistry, Prof Nthabiseng Ogude: UP's Vice-Principal, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi: Minister of Health, Ms Precious Matsoso: Director General-Department of Health, Dr Tim Laurens: Manager of Forensic Toxicology Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry at University of Pretoria.

 The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi delivering his speech during the launch of Forensic Toxicology programme at the University of Pretoria.

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