Hospital-acquired (nosocomial) infections are a problem worldwide. It has been clearly demonstrated that in some First World Countries, where sound infection control programmes are in place, the incidence (and cost) of nosocomial infections and the problem of antibiotic-resistant pathogens are low. In many developing countries, the uncontrolled use of antibiotics has led to the emergence of resistant bacterial strains, and the resultant requirement for new antibiotics can considerably increase the cost of infection control.
Furthermore, the rapid spread of HIV infection on the African continent, and indeed globally, has further emphasised the need for good infection control programmes.
With the severe financial constraints that are imposed upon South African hospitals, infection control makes economic sense: prevention and control of nosocomial infections is clearly cheaper than cure.
A major concern of the South African public at present is whether hospitals will be able to maintain high standards in health care. As part of its commitment to disease prevention and management, the South African Institute for Medical Research (SAIMR) launched a specialised infection control laboratory in July 1996.
This laboratory, which is exclusively dedicated to infection control, is the first of its kind in South Africa. The laboratory works on a collaborative basis with all infection control practitioners (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc) within a hospital or hospital group. The scope of this laboratory includes adequate infection control-related laboratory facilities and expertise, microbiological sampling of the hospital environment, specialised bacteriology, investigation of hospital outbreaks, research relating to hospital epidemiology, and education regarding laboratory aspects of infection control.
The control and prevention of Viral Haemorrhagic Fever is an important aspect of the unit s services and a large role was played in the containment of the case of Ebola in November/December 1996. Advice and treatment of needle-stick injuries, especially in the diagnostic laboratory setting, is also included in the unit s workload.
The division also provides a service to industrial companies with respect to problems of bacterial contamination and infection control as required. The laboratory test repertoire and services offered by Infection Control Services are listed in Routine Testing.