Question NW621 to the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation

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22 March 2024 - NW621

Profile picture: Zondo, Mr  S S

Zondo, Mr S S to ask the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation

(1)In light of the decline in research funding in the Republic, what plans has he put in place to support and strengthen higher education institutions to resist potential bias in areas such as health research arising from corporate funding; (2) whether there are any ongoing and/or planned initiatives to enhance the capacity of (a) public health academics and (b) research ethics committees to identify and manage conflicts of interest in health research; if not, what is the position in this regard; if so, what are the relevant details?


1. The funding of health (including medical) research is managed between the Departments of Higher Education, Science and Innovation and Health and their respective entities. To ensure public good policy goals are coherently promoted across the two systems, there is a high degree of collaboration between the two Departments and its entities. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is working with the National Health Research Ethics Council of the National Department of Health, the South African Medical Research Council, as well as the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) to develop guidelines for health research data management. Public funded health research is informed by the priorities that are set by the National Health Research Committee of the National Department of Health in collaboration with the Department of Science and Innovation. Researchers at the public funded Higher Education Institutes should adhere to the set priorities. Should a company want to fund research in line with the national health research priorities, the research proposal needs to be approved by the respective Institutional or provincial health research ethics committee, to ensure fairness and access.

2. The building of the capacity with regards to the research ethics committees is the responsibility of the National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) of the National Department of Health. The NHREC is a statutory body established under the National Health Act No 61 of 2003. The Act mandates the Minister of Health to establish the Council and it sets out NHREC’s functions, which involves giving direction on ethical issues relating to health and to develop guidelines for the conduct of research involving humans. The following are the functions of the NHREC as outlined in the Act:

  • Determine guidelines for the functioning of health research ethics committees;
  • Register and audit health research ethics committees;
  • Set norms and standards for conducting research on humans and animals including norms and standards for conducting clinical trials;
  • Adjudicate complaints about the functioning of health research ethics committees and hear any complaint by a researcher who believes that he or she has been discriminated against by a health research ethics committee.
  • Refer to the relevant statutory health professional council matters involving the violation or potential violation of an ethical or professional rule by a health care provider.
  • Institute such disciplinary action as may be prescribed against any person found to be in violation of any norms and standards, or guidelines, set for the conducting of research in terms of this Act; and
  • Advise the national department and provincial departments on any ethical issues concerning research.

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