SA mines gripped in the jaws of TB

Cape Town - For every worker who dies each year as a result of an accident on a South African mine, nine more die of tuberculosis, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.

"There are 41 810 cases of active TB in South African mines every year. It is 8% of the national total, and 1% of the population, very unfortunately," he told MPs at Parliament.

Speaking during a second day of debate on President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address, Motsoaledi said the incidence of TB among the country's mineworkers and their partners and children was the highest of any working population in the world.

"It is the highest incidence of TB in any working population in the world. It affects 500 000 mineworkers, their 230 000 partners, and 700 000 children."

Focus on mining fatalities

Mining unions tended to focus on mining fatalities, which were emotive and provoked much anger.

"If you talk to any [union] leader about some of the hazards in mines that workers are faced with on a daily basis, they will immediately cite mining accidents."

In 2009, there were 167 fatalities that occurred in the mining sector due to mining accidents.

"But, in the same year, there were 24 590 cases of TB, which resulted in 1 598 TB fatalities."

The gold mines were the most affected.

1 143 deaths

"In the gold mining industry in [2009], there were 80 fatalities due to mining accidents. But the TB cases were 17 591 in this sector alone, and [these] led to 1 143 deaths.

"So for every death of a mineworker due to accident, there are nine who die of TB."

Motsoaledi said there were 59 400 orphans "currently in care" as a result of TB-related deaths in the mining sector.

The health minister told the House his department was geared up to tackle the problem.

Having secured half a billion rand in international funding, it had identified six districts - in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo and Free State - that had "a very high concentration of mining activity".

The districts had a total population of 600 000 people residing in so-called peri-mining communities.

Tapping technology

New technology had been deployed in these districts. This had revolutionised the diagnosis of TB "by reducing the period of the diagnostic process from a week to only two hours".

At the end of last month, the department had also deployed 1 534 "outreach" teams to municipal wards to perform primary health care tasks, including combating TB.

On multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB, Motsoaledi said this was a huge problem within Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] countries.

"Around the world, the problem of MDR is huge within Brics. It accounts for 60% of the global problem, and as you know, we are part of Brics."

MDR was having a "huge economic impact" in these countries due to the sheer amount of resources needed to deal with it.

Local MDR facilities

Nine MDR facilities had been established in South Africa, where infected people spent 18 months before they were cured.

Motsoaledi called on MPs to help mobilise communities within their constituencies "for this major task of reclaiming our mining communities from the jaws of TB".

In his address on Tuesday evening, Zuma announced the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to promote the revitalisation of distressed mining communities.

Motsoaledi's is one of the nine ministries serving on the committee.

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