Infectious diseases have an impact on all levels of society. At one end of the spectrum, tuberculosis and HIV cause severe disease, have significant public health implications and have a major impact on the poorest people. At the other extreme, rhinoviruses (causing the “common cold”), 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 prevention and control. Although general standards are reasonable, outbreaks of healthcare-associated infections occur regularly in South Africa, often being reported in the media. While these often represent a break in a specific aseptic technique, there is a background of nosocomial sepsis often attributed to inadequate attention to basic principles such as hand hygiene.