"With $2.5 trillion in mineral reserves, South Africa has the largest mining sector in the world," but "[t]he work can be devastatingly toxic for the body," with "inhumane and untenable" working conditions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. "South Africa's 500,000 mine workers have the highest recorded rate of [tuberculosis (TB)] among any demographic in the world," he states, noting that cramped working and living conditions put them at an increased risk of the disease. Overall, "mine-associated TB gives rise to 760,000 new cases annually in Africa," and "costs South Africa alone $886 million each year in health care costs and in impoverishment when family providers are too sick to work, or die," according to a study conducted by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tutu writes. Therefore, the 15 SADC nations this summer pledged to take "concrete steps" to fight the disease, he notes.
"African governments should be commended for taking this initiative, but they cannot succeed alone," Tutu states, saying the mining industry and labor unions should make "a cooperative effort to safeguard the health of miners." He continues, "Many international development partners, such as the U.S. government, are engaged in the global fight against TB." Though "budget deficits have forced cuts to TB-control programs, ... [a]s President Obama embarks on his second term, I hope the resolve of SADC governments to fight TB reinvigorates America's commitments," Tutu writes, adding the World Bank "also must play a leading role." Tutu concludes, "Throughout the region, avoiding the disease could help millions of Africans climb out of poverty in our lifetimes. ... [W]e finally have the political will in the region to create an emergency response to arrest its spread" (11/7).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.