By Bongani Tshabalala
BLOEMFONTEIN-A professor at the University of the Free State (UFS) has been appointed as the chairperson of the National Health Research Ethics Council of South Africa (NHREC).
Professor Mello Sekhoacha stepped into this new role in January after being appointed by Dr. Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health in November, 2020.
Sekhoacha is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Health Sciences and an advisory member in the Senate Research Ethics Committee of the UFS.
Among some of her responsibilities is the Facilitating workshops and seminars on research ethics offered by the Postgraduate School.
Before her appointment in her new role, Sekhoacha was Deputy Chairperson of the Council, a position she held since 2018. Her term at the helm of the NHREC will end in 2023. This national statutory body is responsible for the governance and advancement of health research ethics in South Africa. Sekhoacha has been an integral part of the council since 2013. She later became the chairperson of the NHREC’s Norms and Standards Committee which is responsible for developing and revising guidelines for health research.
Sekhoacha’s training spans from pre-clinical laboratory experimentation and the use of animals in research to clinical trials and working with indigenous communities.
“There is a global paradigm shift in the role and integration of ethics in health research, with an increased emphasis on the scientific and social value of research, the prospect of generating the knowledge in a manner that protects and promotes people’s health”, Sekhoacha said.
She believes the NHREC’s consideration goes beyond developing ethical guidelines and ensuring the efficient functioning of the ethics committees.
“The NHREC raises awareness among research institutions and researchers to continually promote ethically sound research conduct”. The subject of ethics in health research is pivotal and reflective of the values of both the institution and the country at large. “The NHREC has achieved remarkable outputs over the past three years and I believe given the current composition of the council members, this momentum will not be lost”, she says.
“One of the goals of the NHREC is to further broaden the scope of the ethics in health research guidelines from biomedical research to health-related research ensuring that adequate guidance is provided for those in health-related disciplines. “This is in response to the changing environment of research involving humans and the broader meaning of health research.”