The Department of Virology is increasing
opportunities for researchers in the field.

Students completing the MBChB programme or relevant qualifications in Health Sciences at UKZN have an option to train as virologists at a joint UKZN and National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) Department at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.

A growing centre for research excellence in virology – the study of viruses and viral diseases – the Department of Virology at the hospital provides cost-effective and professional laboratory medicine through competent, qualified professionals and state-of-the-art technology supported by academic and internationally recognised research, training and product development which aims to maximise health care delivery in the province.

Dr Pravi Moodley, Acting Head of the Department of Virology, said students accepted into the Department’s programme had opportunities to conduct basic, clinical, operational and scientific research.

‘We are the only department in the province which teaches and trains medical students, scientists and technologists leading to registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. We also teach postgraduate students from various health sciences disciplines.

‘As part of the NHLS, the Department’s virology laboratory is the only one used by the Department of Health to provide a clinical diagnostic service in KwaZulu-Natal.’

Moodley said the number of HIV PCR tests had increased considerably due to the expansion of the National Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission Programme and an increase uptake of infant HIV testing.

The Department conducts Enzyme Linked Immuno-Assay (ELISA) for various viruses such as HIV, HAV, HBV, HCV, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein – Barr virus, HSV 1/2 and Toxoplasma serological markers. ‘The number of viral ELISA’s has increased due to the increase in requests for HBV, CMV and Toxoplasma from the clinics in the Comprehensive Care Management and Treatment Programme (CCMTP).’

Moodley said there had also been an increase in the number of viral PCR assays done for CMV, VZV, HSV and Parvovirus using optimized in-house real-time techniques based on published methods. ‘This technique improves the Turn-around-Time and is more accurate than conventional viral isolation techniques. The number of viral isolation assays done for various viruses in cell culture has thus decreased.’

Moodley believes the Department’s input is benefiting society in facilitating clinical and scientific decision making in the DoH’s CCMT Programme.

Moodley said they looked for quality graduates who showed initiative, a good attitude and the ability to work independently. ‘No matter how much knowledge we impart, it does not work efficiently if students do not have these qualities.

‘We value students we train and make every effort to retain them by providing job opportunities.’

Mrs Savy Pillay, a Supervisor in the Department’s Serology Laboratory, said they received high volumes of samples for testing. The Department is also home to the Molecular and the Virus Isolation and Cell Culture laboratories.

Pillay said students were excited to be part of the only Department which conducted the annual National Antenatal Sentinel HIV and Syphilis Prevalence Survey in KwaZulu-Natal.