Communicable diseases, defined as bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections that can be transmitted to humans via the environment, animals and other human beings, continue to be a major health problem in many parts of the world. In Malaysia, infections still rank third as a cause of morbidity and mortality among patients admitted to public and private hospitals (MOH health facts, 2016). Climate change, political turmoil and misuse of antibiotics have all been blamed for the increasing health burden from infections. With global travel of humans, animals and disease vectors, comes the global transmission of diseases. Hence, Malaysia, being a meeting point of global communities, can no longer afford to focus only on the control of traditional tropical diseases. We have to be alert to the possibility of importation of new infections and to be equipped with the knowledge and resources to prevent their dissemination in our country.
While many infections are preventable with vaccination, the use of anti-infective agents and hygienic practices, new infections are continuously emerging as a result of microbial evolution, selection by human interference and geopolitical changes. In recent decades, epidemics such as SARS, MERS, Nipah, Zika and avian/swine influenza have taken a heavy toll on human health. More critically, the emergence and dissemination of multidrug-resistant bacteria is threatening the end of modern medicine, as the lack of effective treatment for infections is making interventions such as joint replacement, organ transplantation and cancer chemotherapy almost too dangerous to undertake. The World Health Organization has declared antibiotic resistance as a global crisis (WHO 2015). There is obviously, an urgent need for health care systems, world-wide, to respond to such threats.
University research centres can contribute significantly towards the prevention and control of infections. Research findings can lead to new products and interventions or the more effective use of existing products and interventions. A better understanding of causes and consequences of infections and the link between infectious and non-infectious diseases, for instance, the association between diabetes and TB, is crucial for effective targeted interventions and management strategies. An indispensable tool in infection research is surveillance, to understand patterns of disease emergence, to map, monitor and evaluate trends, and to measure the effectiveness of disease control programmes. Currently, data is still lacking for many infectious diseases. Innovations and novel approaches are required to enable improved surveillance coverage, particularly in resource poor areas.