According to the National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) 2015 Guidelines, “All REC members should have documented proof of research ethics training, refreshed at least once within the period of appointment”. To meet these requirements, an accredited training session was held for all members of Rhodes University’s Human Ethics Committee in October.
Dr Henriette Van der Berg from the University of the Free State facilitated the two-day training session, which was compulsory for all members. The discussions centred on the functions of review committees, challenges and dilemmas faced by reviewers in approving proposals for data collection.
The training discussions revealed that some students and staff members still do not understand the entirety of the Rhodes University ethics application process. Although the Human Ethics Committee Chairs have drawn up guidelines in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), it was emphasised that these should not be taken into consideration without regarding the context of the research when applying the SOPs.
The importance of the application process for ethics should not be viewed as unnecessary “red tape”, but rather as a way of ensuring that harm and vulnerability are minimised for both the participant and researcher. The need to assess the risk benefit ratio was discussed at length.
The composition of ethics review committees was discussed, and the inclusion of a community member in this process was agreed to be an important regulator of bias. Other topics of relevance included the social value of research, which needs implementation through interventions to participating communities and for improved community engagement. This, furthermore, aligns with the Rhodes University Institutional Development Plan.
The training was a success and a Continuous Profession Development Certificate was issued to each attendee following an assessment that concluded the training.