Southern African Development Community explores ways to respond to occupational health
JOHANNESBURG, July 26, 201—The health of miners in Southern Africa, their families, and their wider communities could be improved through smart investments in initiatives aimed at tackling occupational diseases, such as TB and Silicosis, members of groups attending a two-day meeting underway in South Africa have stated.
Under the theme, Smart Investments in Health: Mining as a Catalyst for Building Sustainable Communities, associations of miners and ex-miners, as well as members of the private sector, governments and their development partners, and civil society are identifying priority interventions for further investment in occupational and public healthcare.
The meeting is taking place amid a growing mining industry, with more countries discovering minerals. Studies in ten countries in the Southern African Development Community show, however, that most have not yet set up strong regulations and institutions to address the effects of mining on health in and around the mines. Mine workers, especially those in artisanal and small-scale mines, have limited access to occupational health services. And the communities living around mines are often also exposed to the same public and environmental health risks, such as TB and HIV infection, air and water pollution.
“Addressing a complex, 150 year-old, TB problem in mines requires a coordinated multi-sectoral and multi-country approach, and partnerships,” said Paul Noumba Um, World Bank Country Director for South Africa. “Various regional initiatives have been undertaken to fight this scourge in Southern Africa. Today, we are calling on partners to do more”.
In the last five years, a significant amount of knowledge has been generated to understand the extent of this problem and enable countries to identify solutions. Countries have started initiatives to prevent TB infection, identify TB cases, and provide TB treatment services and occupational health services to current and ex-mineworkers.
This is a critical initiative in a region where mineworkers have higher TB prevalence compared to general population. An estimated 500,000 mineworkers work in South Africa. Statistics suggest 2,500–3,000 diagnosed TB cases per 100,000 mineworkers in the gold mines, ten times the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold (of 250/100,000 people). An estimated 70% of occupational TB cases go undetected.
”We are beginning to see concrete action for addressing TB in the mining affected populations in the region. This is the start of a paradigm shift, but must be sustained and scaled-up for impact,” said, Suvanand Sahu, Deputy Executive Deputy Director of the Stop TB Partnership Secretariat.
Some of the models for investing in occupational and public health being considered are community development trusts, social labor plans, and corporate social responsibility.
“The implementation of these programs require considerable resources and mobilizing investment from various partners, including the private sector,” said Donald Denis Tobaiwa, Chair of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism of Southern Africa.
This meeting is building on previous initiatives to improve mining policy and legislation.
“We see a role for the private sector in providing financial resources to scale-up existing initiatives, such as the expansion of occupational TB services to key affected populations,” said Mark Edington, Head of Grant Management Division for the Global Fund. “The experience of the Global Fund has shown successful outcomes when partnering with the private sector to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria in other regions.”