New report highlights the public health threat of TB in South Africa’s gold mines.

29 Nov 2013

UK and South African civil society call for an urgent response

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A new report, published by RESULTS UK and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), launched today titled "Tuberculosis in South Africa's Gold Mines; A United Call to Action" details the role that gold mining has in driving the TB epidemic in southern Africa, and calls for a step up in political and corporate will for developing a coordinated international response to the disease.

TB and Mining coverMine workers in South Africa have the highest rates of TB anywhere in the world; with between 3-7,000 cases per 100,000 population (the UK has 14 cases per 100,000). A combination of exposure to lung damaging silica dust, high rates of HIV co-infection, cramped at-mine living conditions and hot, unventilated working conditions create perfect conditions for the transmission of TB.[1]

To understand how mining activities impact such a wide geographical area, Lynette Mabote, Regional Advocacy Team Leader at ARASA, explains, “Limited economic opportunities have created a pattern of circular migration, with men travelling from across the region to South Africa’s mines and back again on a regular basis. This contributes to TB and HIV being exported back to these home communities in Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania and others.”  As a result, estimates suggest that mining activities are responsible for around 760,000 TB cases in the general population each year.[2]

The report makes a renewed call to key stakeholders including the UK Government, mining companies, regional heads of state and civil society to redouble efforts to bring the TB epidemic under control. Something which is urgently needed as Aaron Oxley, Executive Director of RESULTS, explained:  “Despite being an issue which has been well understood as a matter of urgent public health for over a century, action to concretely address the problem has, to date, been limited in scope, ambition and achievement.”

Some of the report’s key recommendations are:

  • For all mining companies to adopt industry best practices in relation to TB prevention, detection and treatment, putting the health of their workers at the forefront of their businesses.
  • For the UK Government to provide $20 million per year, for three years, to TB REACH, a funding mechanism which uses innovative techniques to detect TB among vulnerable and hard to reach communities, including mining communities.
  • For the South African Government to expeditiously review existing legislation in relation to compensation for occupational diseases in order to create a system that allows former mine workers to seamlessly access compensation in the event of contracting occupational diseases.
  • For the Southern African Development Community Secretariat to develop and implement a promised ‘Code of Conduct’ aimed at creating a legal framework for mines to adhere to in relation to occupational TB among their workers.
  • The report also calls for UK and Southern African civil society to work together ahead of a major international summit on TB in Mining being held in South Africa in February 2014, to ensure that all those involved with the issue commit to concrete action plans, and follow through.

The full report is available for download from the RESULTS website.

For interviews and information contact:

Felix Jakens felix.jakens@results.org.uk +44 207 793 3970/+44 7786 438 567

Lynette Mabote lynette@arasa.info +27 21 422 5463/+27 83 642 0817

Editors notes:

  • RESULTS UK is a UK charity that aims to generate the public and political will to end hunger and poverty by focusing education, microfinance and global health issues, including TB. RESULTS UK works to change policy and mobilise resources to TB and to improve equitable access to health services. For more information visit results.org.uk
  • The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa is a regional partnership of non-governmental organisations working together to promote a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS and TB in Southern Africa through capacity building and advocacy. ARASA partners comprise a diverse mix of more and less well-established organisations including networks of people living with HIV (PLHIV), legal aid organisations, women’s organisations, youth organisations and other AIDS service organisations.
  • Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne infectious disease caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most commonly attacks the lungs but can be found in any part of the body. Like the common cold, TB is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs or even sings. A person with TB can infect on average 10 to 15 people a year. Left untreated, TB can be fatal. Every year, 1.3 million people worldwide die from the disease.
  • Silicosis is an incurable, degenerative lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust commonly produced during drilling or blasting of quartz rock. In gold mines, the gold is contained within the quartz.

[1] Stuckler, D. et al, ‘Mining and Risk of Tuberculosis in Sub-Saharan Africa’, American Journal of Public Health, 2011 Mar; 101(3):524-30

[2] ibid

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