JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Minerals Council South Africa VP and Masoyise Health Programme chairperson Zanele Matlala on Thursday committed the South African mining industry to doing all it takes to ensure that employee lives are saved and health is improved.
Speaking at a global virtual health seminar to reprioritise tuberculosis (TB), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and other occupational diseases in the era of Covid-19, Matlala refocused attention on the perennial diseases that have plagued mining for decades.
“We cannot allow Covid-19 to make us forget the commitments we have made as an industry and as the Minerals Council,” Matlala emphasised to more than 200 people, including representatives of the Joint United Nations Programme (UNAIDS), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation.
Matlala said the mining industry had by this week recorded around 17 000 Covid-19 cases and 190 deaths out of a total of the 350 000 employees back at work and a total workforce of 455 000.
More than half of the 190 employees who died were more than 50 years old, with 84% suffering from comorbidities, including TB, HIV/AIDS and NCDs. This was in spite of some employees being kept away from work. Some of the vulnerable employees who were at home still contracted the coronavirus and died.
“We were caught between a rock and a hard place, and did our best in the prevailing circumstances,” Matlala told the webinar in which Mining Weekly took part.
The five-year-old Minerals Council-led multi-stakeholder Masoyise Health Programme, she said, had been established to improve the industry’s health performance in the management of TB, HIV, NCDs and other occupational diseases.
From 2016 to 2018, a peak of 90% of employees had been screened for TB and 83% a year counselled for HIV. This was followed by a slight regression in 2019 and then a major Covid-19 disruption this year.
Matlala reported that TB contact tracing in the high-prevalence districts had been strengthened by adding a contact-tracing module to the electronic reporting system and a number of valuable studies had been conducted in particularly the past two years, including TB and HIV services in the coal sector, TB mortality in the industry as a whole, and health promotion and behaviour change to assist in the management of NCDs.
These studies had shone a light in areas needing strengthening and the recommendations made in the studies were now being implemented. Most of Masoyise’s recent achievements had, she said, been made possible through its partnerships with the ILO and UNAIDS.
Covid-19 had forced innovation and that same approach was now needed in the fight against the pre-existing diseases.
“The Covid-19 screening apps that we use currently can easily accommodate TB screening. We can ensure that, going forward, all employees that attend our occupational health services and any health facilities are counselled for HIV. The manner in which we scrupulously attended to our vulnerable employees with hypertension, diabetes and other chronic conditions is the same manner in which we can continue to manage them to optimise their health for the future.
“We are in an even better position with chronic diseases as many who were previously unknown declared their conditions due to vulnerability to Covid-19. We hope to learn more about what we can do to neutralise the impact of Covid-19 and end the year on a positive note because health and wellbeing of our employees in the industry is paramount and we’ll do all it takes to ensure that we save lives and improve health,” Matlala promised.
In response to Mining Weekly on the percentage of mining's 455 000 employees suffering from TB, HIV/AIDS and NCDs, Minerals Council head of health Dr Thuthula Balfour stated that data on TB incidence on mines showed the following trend:
in 2016 there were 740 TB cases for every 100 000 employees;
in 2017 there were 548 TB cases for every 100 000 employees; and
in 2018 there were 415 TB cases for every 100 000 employees, with TB tending to be more common in males over the age of 40.
In the case of HIV, reliable information was not available owing to HIV being a medical condition where confidentiality applied, but it could be assumed that the rate should be similar to the South African adult rate of around 20%. In areas where employees were sourced locally and stayed in their communities, the rate was lower. There was also no reliable information on NCDs as the last survey done was around 2014. The average rate for hypertension among South African black people above 40 years was also 20%, Dr Balfour stated in an emailed response.