According to the World Bank, around half a million mineworkers in South Africa and about two million ex-mineworkers spread across Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are at a high risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) within a sector which has a net asset value of 1.8 trillion US dollars, with mineral exports accounting for nearly 9 per cent of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).
(WATCH VIDEO: TB remains leading cause of death in S.Africa)
“The reason mineworkers in Southern Africa are particularly vulnerable to TB is their exposure to multiple risk factors as a result of their jobs, their living conditions, and their migrant lifestyles,” said the World Bank in a statement.
The miners are exposed to silica dust in often poorly ventilated deep mine shafts which can cause silicosis. This increases the risk of pulmonary TB.
(WATCH VIDEO: Safety standards in South Africa's mines)
Overcrowded living conditions and poor housing in informal settlements then spreads the risk of contracting the airborne disease.
High HIV rates also increase the likelihood of TB infections, and regular cross border movements allows the transmission of infections to families and communities in the worker’s home countries.
“Most community members come to us when they are already too sick after having been exposed unknowingly to the disease by their partners who work in the mines,” said Thembi Karigeni, a nurse at a public health facility in Carltonville, home to some of the world’s biggest mines.
The World Bank believes that the lack of accurate information regarding TB has also contributed to its spread among mineworkers.
Vama Jele, an ex- mineworker from Swaziland who comes from a line of mineworkers, stated that they were not informed about the dangers of TB. As a result, two of his brothers working in the mines in South Africa are being treated for TB.
“When I worked in the mines, I didn’t even believe that TB came from working in that environment. When we were recruited, no one ever told us about the risk that we would be exposed to,” added Jele.
The World Bank stated that in an attempt to tackle the century old TB scourge among mineworkers, the governments of Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland, met with the mining industry, union representatives, development partners and other stakeholders at a Ministerial Meeting in Johannesburg, South Agfrica to discuss a standardised approach to the management of TB in the mining industry across all four countries.
“This meeting is an important step in the development of a truly regional approach to this disease – which affects cross-border migrant workers disproportionately, and cannot be tackled by any country alone,” said the World Bank.
The governments of Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland later signed a framework for the harmonized management of tuberculosis in the mining sector in a move that will help to track, refer and treat infected miners in a standardized manner across these countries.
“In the whole region we share labour, we share communities, and we share labour-sending areas. But we haven’t had a clear program for how to work together. That is why we brought the issue to the Stop TB Partnership, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation to help us bring the issue to all countries in the region to organise this meeting and work on clear outcomes,” said Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South African Minister of Health and Chairperson of the Stop TB Partnership.