Exempting Health Research from the Consent Provisions of POPIA





code of conduct, consent, exemption, POPIA, Protection of Personal Information Act, privacy


The Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (hereafter POPIA) has the potential to disrupt health research in South Africa. While the legal status quo is that broad consent by research participants is acceptable, POPIA requires specific consent for any processing of research participants' health and genetic information. However, POPIA offers mechanisms such as an exemption from specified measures which can potentially be used to ameliorate its impact. It is proposed that the health research sector should seek to utilise these mechanisms – in particular, a sector-wide exemption of all health research projects from the requirement of specific consent by research participants, subject to the conditions that: (a) a health research project must be approved by a health research ethics committee, and that (b) either specific, broad or tiered consent must be obtained for a health research project. Importantly, it would be counter-productive to approach such an application for exemption from the perspective of inconvenience for health researchers. Instead, an application for exemption must be approached from a human rights platform, and must be supported by solid evidence. Such evidence should include the results of empirical studies of South African research participants' preferences.



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Author Biographies

Donrich W Thaldar, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Associate Professor, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Beverley A Townsend, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa




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South Africa

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Liquor Act 27 of 1989

Liquor Act 59 of 2003

National Health Act 61 of 2003

Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013

European Union

General Data Protection Regulation 679/2016

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Department of Health 2015 Ethics in Health Research: Principles, Processes and Structures http://nhrec.health.gov.za/index.php/grids-preview accessed 12 March 2021

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Additional Files



How to Cite

Thaldar, D. W., & Townsend, B. A. (2021). Exempting Health Research from the Consent Provisions of POPIA. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 24, 1–32. https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2021/v24i0a10420




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