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Interview with WSPID President 


• Tell us about your background, your current position and how it connects to the field of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

My background is that I trained as a pediatrician at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and I completed most of my post graduate training, including my PHD at the University. My current position is professor of Vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand and Executive-director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which is a position I took on about two years ago. I initially specialized in Critical Care and subsequently in Infectious Diseases, and have been involved in research in the field of vaccine preventable diseases with a focus on respiratory pathogens since 1997.  The focus of my research unit is in the broad field of vaccine preventable diseases; in terms of epidemiology, clinical trials and immunology.
Some of the pivotal trials with regards to  pneumococcal and other vaccines that I have been involved in have  guided or influenced the policy of WHO in terms of its recommendation for implementation of those vaccines in low income countries.

• What are some of the highlights of the WSPID 2013 scientific program?

Some of the highlights of the scientific program are that we are addressing infectious disease issues which are really at a cutting edge in terms of contributing to childhood morbidity and mortality, especially in low income countries. In the year 2013 roughly about 50% of all children that died of infectious diseases, actually lived in Africa, which make up only about 18% of the under 5 population.

What's especially notable in terms of scientific agenda is that it's been centered around addressing issues which are of special importance in low income countries and in particular, in Africa, and WSPID 2013 has amongst others, symposiums on pneumonia, diarrhoeal disease, malaria, TB and HIV, which are really the top five causes of under 5 mortality globally, as well as in Africa. The spectrum of speakers that we've got lined up to address the various issues are internationally-recognized, in being able to address the challenges as well as the progress that has been made in terms of those different syndromes.

In addition to that, we've also got programs which will be addressing other emerging issues at a global perspective and included amongst those is a program which is going to be looking at all issues of pertussis, both in developing as well as in undeveloped countries and that particular symposium is being led by who very well might be the father of Vaccinology in modern times and that is Professor Stanley Plotkin.

We also have a specific symposia which will be addressing the emerging issue of Antibiotic Stewardship at hospital facility levels and there will be a number of opportunities also to debate some of the controversies in relation to Pediatric Infectious Diseases including our session on how best to manage sepsis as well. Furthermore, we also have a workshop on the progress which is being made on Polio eradication. WSPID 2013 is really broad in terms of outlook but at the same time being focused on the major infectious disease syndromes which are contributing to the majority of under 5 morbidity and mortality globally.

• How do the topics which will be discussed relate to and have an impact on South Africa, the region and Africa in general.

I think the attraction for Africans in particular to attend WSPID 2013 is that we've got speakers that will be really giving state of the art lectures, in terms of the prevention, as well as the management of common infectious disease problems which children in Africa face and that includes management of children with HIV, the management of children with TB and another major issue for which we've got a dedicated symposium at WSPID 2013 is on neonatal infection. The latter  is particularly important given that although the under 5 mortality has decreased globally between the years 2000-2010, the one aspect of under 5 mortality which hasn’t changed is the number of deaths that occur during the neonatal period. Increasingly, what we're recognizing is that the large fraction of that neonatal associated morbidity and mortality might have some sort of association with infection; both infection either in the mother or infection in the neonate. At this particular symposium we'll be addressing not only the epidemiology of neonatal sepsis but also what the latest developments are in terms of the prevention of death during the neonatal period; by not only by targeting the child, but also by targeting the mother as a vehicle towards better equipping the child to dealing with infectious disease challenges in the first few months of life.

• Can you explain the importance of the WSPID 2013 congress?  How is WSPID 2013 unique?

WSPID 2013 is unique in that this is the 8th congress of WSPID, but it is the first time that this congress is actually being held in the African continent. As I had mentioned, that is particularly notable in so far as the majority of death that occurs from infectious diseases actually takes place on the African continent. Generally the WSPID program is influenced by the region in which the conference is taking place at and in many of the previous WSPID congresses, the themes that we'll be addressing at WSPID 2013 have been covered to the extent to which we will be able to influence physician decision making in the future management of the children.

• How will participants benefit from attending WSPID 2013 in terms of speakers and sessions?

The spectrum of speakers that we've got lined up for WSPID 2013 are really the leading experts in the world, when it comes to pediatric infectious diseases and in particular, when it comes to their field of expertise.
In addition to dealing with issues such as management and prevention of infectious diseases, there are also going to be a number of talks which will better help us understand the immune and genetic factors which contribute towards the susceptibility of children developing infectious diseases.

In this particular congress, we also have a session on Neglected Tropical Diseases, that again is quite important in so far as the role of parasites etc as causes for the under 5 morbidity and mortalities usually under emphasized. In this meeting, we are going to have a specific session which will be led by Professor David Molyneux who will be addressing the major Neglected Tropical Diseases which are still prevailing in the African continent.

Other than that we've also got a number of personalized sessions which are known as the "Meet the Professor" sessions, where pediatricians will be able to engage almost on a one on one, with leading experts in the field in a number of different infectious disease topics which are of relevance and of importance in the African continent.