Prof Van Niekerk appointed as member of the NHREC

Prof Anton van Niekerk (photo), Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Applied Ethics, both at Stellenbosch University (SU), has been appointed as a member of the National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) in September by the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

This appointment is for a three-year period. Prof  A van Niekerk-webfoto

The NHREC is the highest policy-making body focussing on research ethics in the country, and was established in accordance with the new Health Act of 2003. The Council makes policy on research ethics, accredits all research ethics committees in the country and advises the Minister on matters related to research ethics.

The Council consists of 15 members, “all persons with a very solid foundation in research ethics, but also with distinctive medical expertise,” explains Van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk is a world-renowned expert in the field of bio-ethics and his achievements include a B2 rating from the National Research Foundation of South Africa. At present he is the Chair of the SU Senate’s Research Ethics Committee and of the Board of Directors of the Ethics Institute of South Africa. He is the author, co-author and editor of 17 books and more than 130 journal articles and book chapters. Over the years he has also done extensive research on the moral problems arising from the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa, as well as on ethical problems with regard to genetic technologies, moral theories, the history and social functions of bio-ethics in South Africa, research ethics, rationality models, hermeneutics, contemporary models of religious faith, and the pragmatic idea of religion.

Van Niekerk also took the initiative in the creation of the MPhil programme in Applied Ethics, which has been offered in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences since 1996. In this programme his specific focus is the Biomedical Ethics area of specialisation. Since the programme’s inception, 80 bio-ethicists have been trained. It is therefore not surprising that a number of the NHREC members who have been appointed along with him were once students of his.

“With this realisation, it has occurred to me that I have succeeded in one thing in this life, and that is in training a number of students to work in the research ethics field. And it gives me great pleasure to see how my students are, to an extent, taking the matter forward on various platforms further afield, as well as on the NHREC,” he says.

Van Niekerk is also involved in a number of other bio-ethics programmes, including the International Research Ethics Network of South Africa (IRENSA) at the University of Cape Town, and the Advancing Research Ethics Training in South Africa (ARESA) of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Fogarty International Centre of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA funds both programmes.

“I hope to make a contribution with my academic knowledge through the NHREC. In the years that I have been involved in various research projects and bio-ethics programmes such as IRENSA and ARESA, I have developed a certain expertise that might be useful to the Council. Here I would be able to make a contribution to major issues, such as the whole question of to what extent it is justified to do research on the genetic composition of patients, how consent of patients are obtained for medical research, as well as how prisoners and the bodies of the dead are treated.”