Hospital-acquired infections are an issue of increasing concern in South Africa and throughout the world. The ability of the NHLS to contribute to the control of such infections received a boost recently with the launch of the Unit for Molecular Epidemiology at the NHLS laboratory at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town. The unit is a joint venture between the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the NHLS and the University of Cape Town (UCT). Headed by UCT professors Mark Nicol and Anna-Lise Williamson of Medical Microbiology and Virology, respectively, it is the first NICD satellite unit to be established outside of Johannesburg.
The unit plans to focus on the molecular epidemiology of infectious disease in the Coastal Region of the NHLS, with particular emphasis on multi-resistant bacterial pathogens. As part of a national collaborative network, the unit will also identify and track emerging pathogens, as well as manage the African activities of the World Health Organization’s HPV Labnet programme, which provides laboratory services to monitor the impact of vaccination against the human papillomavirus.
The unit plans to build on the skills and knowledge of the university departments and of the diagnostic laboratory at Groote Schuur Hospital (which serves Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Mowbray Maternity Hospital, Victoria Hospital and False Bay Hospital in addition to Groote Schuur Hospital). Collaboration with other NICD units has commenced with the placement of a trainee from the Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme. While the unit is still in the early stages of recruiting staff and developing protocols, the knowledge generated through its work will in future inform and assist the fight against hospital-acquired infections.