Although the declaration was signed on 18 August, it was only announced yesterday out of respect for those killed at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine.
Mine workers in South Africa currently have the highest rate of TB in the world. One-third of TB infections in the Southern African region are linked to mining activities and recent research has estimated that 3% to 7% of miners are becoming ill with the disease each year.
‘As the country begins a fresh examination of the rights of miners, South Africa and neighbouring countries are also confronting an ongoing debacle – one that has, virtually unnoticed, been taking the lives of thousands of mine workers and their families every year: tuberculosis (TB),’ the Stop TB Partnership said in a statement.
Two years of efforts by a trio of health ministers culminated on 18 August in a pledge to address the TB epidemic among current and ex-mine workers, their families and affected communities.
The Declaration on TB in the Mining Sector, a legal instrument, was signed at the Summit Meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government.
‘For more than one hundred years, legions of miners in the Southern African region have been suffering from and dying of tuberculosis. This declaration gives us the opportunity to change this lamentable situation,’ said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.
As the mining industry in South Africa is heavily dependent on migrant workers from surrounding countries, particularly Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland, the mines serve as a source of infection. Each migrant worker who returns home with TB spreads the disease to an estimated 10 to 15 people in his community.
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Dr Mphu Ramatlapeng, Vice-Chair of the Global Fund Board and former Minister of Health of Lesotho, and Swazi health minister Benedict Xaba have been the driving force behind the initiative that led to the Declaration.
The three put the issue of TB and mining on the SADC agenda in November 2011. This was followed in March 2012 by a SADC stakeholders meeting in Johannesburg at which representatives from governments, trade unions, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and donors provided their inputs. The declaration was subsequently endorsed by SADC ministers of health, labour and justice, paving the way for signatures by the Heads of State.
‘Addressing TB in the mines in a way that covers cross-border issues is crucial to progress against the epidemic in Africa, and we congratulate the SADC heads of state for cementing their commitment to moving towards zero TB infections, zero TB deaths and zero TB stigma,’ said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the World Health Organisation Stop TB Department.
A preliminary analysis on the South African mining sector has identified five interventions needed to address TB among mine workers, former mine workers, their families, and affected communities, namely to:
* actively look for people with TB and provide them with prompt treatment;
* eliminate conditions that lead to high rates of TB in the mines;
* improve TB treatment;
* actively seek former mine workers who could have TB;
* create a legal and regulatory framework that provides compensation for occupational disease among miners.
The estimated annual cost of the TB epidemic in the South African mining sector alone is more than US$ 880 million while taking these steps would cost US$ 570 million, a third less. ‘ Health-e News Service.