During the 2020-2021 review period, the activities of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) were consolidated to enhance its primary objective of servicing the public health needs of South Africans.

Year 2020/2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has repositioned the strategic importance of the NICD in detecting, containing and responding to infectious disease threats in South Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and Africa. As a credible health partner to the National Department of Health, the WHO and the Africa CDC, the institution provides technical support and expertise through the continual surveillance of communicable diseases, outbreak response, specialised diagnostic services, research and training, capacity building and provincial epidemiology services. It furthermore provides the global health community with valuable information on communicable diseases.

National Treasury funds core surveillance activities through the provision of a conditional grant, while select research projects are grant-funded from external agencies and donor funds. The NICD comprises seven disease-focused centres, including a transversal Division of Public Health Surveillance and Response (DPHSR). The 500-strong staff complement includes pathologists, scientists, epidemiologists, medical technologists and technicians, and surveillance officers.


  • The transversal support services that were pivotal in supporting the NICD COVID-19 response include Information Technology, Communications, Biosafety and Biosecurity, and Occupational Health. The Information Technology team created the platforms for the integration of private-sector laboratory SARS-CoV-2 test data and developed the Outbreak Response System for COVID-19, while rapidly enabling electronic systems for the new way of work.
  • The Division of Biosafety and Biosecurity was instrumental in initiatives that included training of laboratory staff in preparation of SARS-CoV-2 virus isolation and proliferation. System upgrades, commissioning and the recertification of the Centre for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases (CEZPD)’s BSL4 and BSL3 facilities were completed with continued biocontainment engineering support for the NDoH.
  • The staff, residents and graduates of the South African Field Epidemiology Training Programme (FETP) responded to demand for epidemiological capacity for COVID-19 and 15 other outbreaks throughout all the provinces. The FETP continued its training by developing a Google online classroom platform, an innovation mirrored by other programmes. The team developed a regional strategic plan to facilitate the training of 200 field epidemiologists in southern Africa and secured funding from the US and Africa CDC to realise this need. The University of Pretoria awarded Master of Public Health degrees to two MSc residents and the University of the Witwatersrand awarded degrees to five FETP residents. The South African FETP offered applied epidemiology training to 35 district and provincial frontline health professionals in the Eastern Cape, while data management training was provided to 115 staff in seven districts in the Northern Cape and the Free State.
  • The Occupational Health Clinic attended to 1 070 visits throughout the year. Some 741 employees from both the NHLS and the NICD were tested for COVID-19, with 132 testing positive. In addition, risk assessments, counselling and occupational health support was provided to those who were exposed to COVID-19.
  • The Communications Unit was a hive of activity, delivering impressive results. Media coverage increased by 38%, social media platforms grew by 9% on Twitter, 51% on Facebook and 558% on LinkedIn, while 47 videos were produced

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