While high-level research is being conducted in this country, training in handling infectious diseases is almost non-existent, and there are few infectious-disease specialists. According to the South African Health Professionals Council, infectious-disease specialists are not registered as a separate category. There is also no database on the number of hospital infections and the majority are not classified as notifiable. Infection is a global problem and infants are particularly at risk - neonatal infection is the sixth biggest cause of baby deaths. Infection contributes to South Africa's high infant mortality rate, which stands at 60 in 1 000, or six percent, compared with 5,6 in 1 000 in Britain. 'Already a serious problem in the US and the UK, but it is likely to get worse in this country'
The extent of the problem was highlighted with the death of 22 newborns at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Durban in May and June after an outbreak of klebsiella bacteria infection. According to research by the Burden of Disease Unit of the Medical Research Council (MRC), neonatal infection caused 3 000 deaths in 2000. According to Statistics South Africa the number of people who died from certain infectious disease and parasitic disease increased by almost 70 000 deaths, from 39 939 to 107 305, between 1997 and 2003. Researchers also warned that drug-resistant bacteria would have a massive impact on the health sector. Head of the MRC, Anthony Mbewu, said the problem was relatively new in South Africa because antibiotics had not been as widely used as elsewhere in the world.
It is already a serious problem in the US and the UK, but it is likely to get worse in this country, said Mbeu. Mbewu said the main problem was resistance to treatment because of the over-prescribing of antibiotics. According to the professor, 80 percent of women on nevirapine would build up a resistance to anti-retroviral medication. Emerging infections include antibiotic-resistant streptococci - a bacteria that causes a variety of diseases, including pneumonia.
Mbewu said the MRC was involved in several research studies including a pilot surveillance system to track trends and alert central authorities.
(Source: IOL, JUly 24, 2005)