We asked National Forensic Science Service Director Cho about the wait times that the families of murder victims must endure whenever the National Forensic Science Service must send DNA samples abroad for testing.
DNA testing is not currently being done in Belize, and so, the general public has begun to begrudgingly accept that sometimes, cases requiring that type of specialized attention could be delayed up to 3 months while everyone waits for the results to return.
Here's what the Executive Director of the National Forensic Science Services had to say about that process:
Gian Cho - Executive Director, National Forensic Science Service
"The current laboratory that we're outsourcing our cases at this time is the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority, which is an ISO-17025 accredited laboratory. The last batch of cases that we sent - because we send cases in batches, rather than on a case-by-case basis. The last batch that we sent was around mid-October, and we got the results back - well, we were informed by the lab that results are ready early December, which sticks to their timeline. Part of being an accredited laboratory, they have to state what their turn-around time is. They said it was 6 to 8 weeks, and we got them in 6 to 8 weeks. If we want rush cases, we have to pay additional for that, and rush cases can be done in as little as 2 weeks. The one that we did, the standard testing, not rush or priority, 6 to 8 weeks, and results are coming in the mail. We're getting those results already, and we see that they're consistent with the timeline that they give. What we would hope to move towards, and we're actively trying to work with our partners in that regard is to move to that system where I said that we can actually send on a case-by-case basis. And we try to utilize those rush options and try to get results a bit sooner. Hopefully sometime next year, we're working closely with our partners, police, the courts, prosecution, to move to a system like that. There are some little nuance that we'll need to work out, the chain of custody, and all that, but we hope that in 2020, the turn around time that we can access from that lab, and whichever other reference laboratories that we use can be shortened from that 6-8 weeks to - if they are urgent cases, especially for missing persons, especially for certain types of cases where the results are needed sooner than what the court system requires."
So, when will it be possible for DNA testing could be carried out locally, instead of needing to be sent abroad? Here's what Director Cho had to say about that:
Gian Cho - Executive Director, National Forensics Science Service
"We've been contemplating that from before my time as director. There's still an active plan to develop the capacity of the lab because to be able to take on additional types of analysis like that, DNA, toxicology, or certain types of trace or fiber testing, you need to be trained personnel. You need the infrastructure, and you need to ensure that you have all the material and supplies needed to do that kind of analysis. Currently, our laboratory does not have the space set up to do DNA. Currently, we don't have staff that is trained that can be certified as DNA analysts. The foundation is there. We have a lot of staff with the required academic degree. We have staff that has even done some short-term DNA training courses. But, when the time comes that we have the infrastructure in place, we have all the equipment, materials, and supplies in place, the staff, by then, will have had to undergo - I believe the current standard is 6 months of training to become a certified DNA analyst."
"So, is there any sort of set-in-stone timeline as to when we'll get to that level of capacity?"
"Not as yet. It's more of a loose timeline. We say within the next 2 or 3 years, we'd hope to have that capacity in place."