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International News

South Africa: Miners Face Huge HIV/AIDS Challenge

November 17, 2008

HIV/AIDS is tearing through South Africa's mining sector, which contributes around 6.6 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

According to Benchmarks Foundation, an estimated 16-30 percent of mineworkers are infected with HIV/AIDS. David van Wyk, a foundation researcher, said exact numbers are difficult to pinpoint since the majority of miners are resistant to participating in voluntary HIV testing programs due to stigma surrounding the disease. Among those who have tested HIV-positive, there is low uptake of antiretroviral treatment for fear of being discriminated against by fellow workers and managers, said van Wyk.

Miners are especially vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of the migration labor system -- a legacy of the apartheid era -- in which workers spend many months away from their families. With around 60 percent of miners living in single-sex hostels, some turn to prostitutes.

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Eric Gcilitshana, health and safety secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, said the industry needs to adopt more family-friendly policies. "We are saying the hostel system must be abolished and be replaced by family units, where workers will live with their families," he said.

At a recent South African Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS Conference, several speakers said the time has come for the mining sector to realize the effect HIV/AIDS is having on productivity, as well as on workers and their families. Many companies are sensitive about releasing data on the disease's impact, they noted.

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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