Infectious diseases have an impact on all levels of society. Patterns and type of infection can be influenced by and in turn influence human behaviour and socio-economic factors. At one end of the spectrum, infections such as tuberculosis and HIV cause extensive disease, have significant public health implications and have a major impact on poor people. This includes sexually transmitted diseases. At the other extreme, rhinovirus infections, although considered fairly innocuous, affect all members of society regardless of socioeconomic status, cause morbidity through the precipitation of asthma and have an economic impact through loss of work.
A neglected area often compounded by lack of infrastructure and exacerbated by behavioural practices is infection control. Although general standards are reasonable, outbreaks of nosocomial infections occur regularly, often being reported in the press and televised media. While these often represent a break in a specific aseptic technique such as when preparing total parenteral nutrition, there is a background of nosocomial sepsis often contributed to inadequate attention to basic principles such as hand washing.
Increasing antibiotic resistance is of major concern and an enormous challenge to contain, both in community and hospital acquired infections. South African Society of Clinical Microbiology (SASCM) representing private and public sector provides invaluable data on antibiotic resistance patterns in South Africa.
An exciting and necessary development in clinical practice is the recent registration of Infectious Diseases as a sub-specialty in South Africa. With the establishment of training posts and increasing numbers of doctors attracted to this challenging and interesting field of practice, will have a major beneficial impact. Several members of the Federation are actively involved in the process.
For these reasons, the Federation was formed from an amalgamation of existing societies representing infectious diseases (Infectious Diseases Society of Southern Africa -IDSSA), sexually transmitted diseases, (Sexually Transmitted Diseases Society of Southern Africa -STDSSA), infection control (Infection Control Society of South Africa -ICSSA) antimicrobial surveillance (National Surveillance Forum NASF) which became the South African Society of Clinical Microbiology (SASCM) in 2009 and travel medicine (The South African Society of Travel Medicine SASTM). The addition of paediatric infectious diseases (Southern African Society of Paediatric Infectious Diseases SASPID) in 2008 completes what is now an amalgamation of 6 societies. The societies will maintain their individual areas of expertise and identities yet will share administrative support.
Benefits of the Federation include a single journal and joint conferences to facilitate scientific and professional interaction. Furthermore, the Federation has a responsibility to guide appropriate treatment of infectious diseases by publishing guidelines; this to include infection control practices.
Current Federation membership via the Societies stands at just under 1500 healthcare and related workers. A major challenge for the Federation is to attract a broader diversity of health care professionals and to increase membership in under represented areas of rural South Africa including our colleagues in Africa.
All infectious diseases require a holistic approach for successful management. Therefore the formation of the Federation, will in a substantive way, contribute to a more integrated approach towards infectious diseases in Southern Africa.