Active surveillance of hospital-acquired infections in South Africa: Implementation, impact and challenges

Warren Lowman


Background. Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a significant although unquantified burden in South Africa. Lack of adequate surveillance compounds this problem.

Objective. To report on the establishment and outcomes of a unit-specific surveillance system for hospital-acquired infections, based on international standards, in a private academic hospital.

Methods. Active unit-specific surveillance of device-associated infections (DAIs) was introduced over a 2-year period. The surveillance system was based on the US National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) utilising standardised definitions. Analysis of DAI rates and device utilisation was done according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention methods. Comparative analysis using study-derived annualised data and existing NHSN data was done.

Results. Surveillance results of DAI rates showed significant reductions in intensive care unit-related ventilator-associated pneumonia (42%) and central line-associated bloodstream infections (100%) over a 3-year period. Substantial variations in DAI rates and utilisation ratios between wards highlight the importance of unit-specific surveillance.

Conclusions. Active surveillance requires a significant investment in resources and is a sustained operational challenge, although equally significant benefits are derived from a better understanding of HAIs with more targeted interventions and efficient use of resources. A robust surveillance system is an essential component of any healthcare infection prevention and control programme and is a prerequisite to contextualising the HAI burden of hospitals.

Author's affiliations

Warren Lowman, Vermaak and Partners Pathologists, Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa; Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, School of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Epidemiology; Surveillance; Hospital-acquired infections

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(5):489-493. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i5.10783

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-03-14
Date published: 2016-04-07

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