Within the Iris Network, the Saint-Pierre Hospital is considered a pioneer in the field of infectious diseases and in providing care to all, including the weakest. As early as the 12th century, there was a leper house attached to the Saint-Pierre chapel. In more modern times, thirty years ago, Professor Nathan Clumeck, who was responsible for the creation of the Infectious Diseases department at the Saint-Pierre Hospital, gained an international reputation for being the first person to diagnose a seropositive African patient and to describe the mode of heterosexual transmission in The Lancet.
In the early 1980s, the Infectious Diseases department was the first in Belgium to develop a disease management philosophy based on a combined medical, psychological and social approach. Patients suffering from infectious diseases are no longer considered simply as biological patients but as individuals living their lives within a society. This so-called “global” approach to patients has been supplemented by a multidisciplinary approach, aimed at ensuring continuity of care and involving a range of specialists who, in the case of HIV patients, also work on the comorbidities, that may affect them. These global and multidisciplinary approaches have now been introduced across all IRIS Network hospitals.
CETIM, one of the main units of the Infectious Diseases department, is -and has been for almost 25 years- Belgium’s principal HIV reference centre, with nearly 3,000 patients under its care. It is recognised by the international community, for the support it offers to patients and for its research activities.
CETIM has been successful in acquiring external funding to develop an approach to patient care, that places the patient at the centre of its concerns. By arrangement with INAMI (Belgium’s Health and Disability Insurance Organisation), it is able to offer patients social, psychological, dietary and sexological support, free of charge. This is in line, both with its mission within the public hospitals network and with the approaches to patient support, developed by its practitioners. The unit comprises a multidisciplinary medical team (specialists in infectious diseases, hepatologists, gynaecologists, psychiatrists, etc). CETIM also boasts an internationally renowned HIV research unit, conducting phase I, II, III and IV studies.
The Elisa Centre, also funded by INAMI, provides anonymous and free screening for HIV (and other sexually transmissible diseases). Its team has implemented a post-exposure prophylaxis policy which, each year, sees hundreds of people, who have been exposed to risk with individuals, who are HIV positive (sexual relations, shared needles, etc).
The Iris Network also offers Belgium’s largest Travel Clinic (more than 25,000 visitors per year).
A reference centre for tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is a disease that affects people who are poor and live in precarious socio-economic circumstances; it therefore concerns a large number of immigrants, currently mainly from eastern Europe. In the absence of any high quality health system, these individuals neglect their treatment and this leads to the emergence of multiresistant forms of tuberculosis. The Iris Network offers such individuals a service for infectious diseases ,with beds and its own identity. In its Infectious Diseases department, the Saint-Pierre Hospital has two 15-bed “L” units (L refers to “contagious beds”), one devoted to tuberculosis (in collaboration with FARES: the Respiratory Illnesses Foundation) and severely isolated patients, and the other to general infectious diseases, including HIV.
The S Clinic : unique in Belgium
Taking its inspiration from facilities in the United States, England and Scandinavia, the S Clinic is devoted to sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). Along with the HIV virus, which is treated at CETIM, the main STIs are gonococcal infections, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, etc. All these conditions are treated at the S Clinic which, as a centre of excellence in this field, is able not only to offer fast treatment but also to provide preventive action in risk environments.