Nyamongo — THE North Mara Gold Mine intends to encourage over 1,600 workers to test their HIV/AIDS status in a two-week voluntary counselling and HIV testing campaign that kicked off at the mine site recently ahead of World AIDS Day.
The campaign is part of the mine efforts to contain new HIV cases among its workers including local contractors who are mainly hailing from the surrounding villages.
It was launched on November 16 by the Mine's General Manager, Mr Basie Maree who took part in testing his HIV status. Since then posters have been placed in different parts of mine vicinity indicating that HIV test results will remain anonymous and confidential.
"The campaign is going on well. On the first they there were 103 people who turned up for voluntary testing and on the second day we had 85 people", the Mine's Occupational Health Superintendent in charge of HIV/AIDS programme Dr Denice Cyprian said.
The exercise is targeting at least 80 per cent of the mine workers including local contractors. Presently the mine which is operated by African Barrick Gold (ABG) has 2,100 workers.
ABG has invested heavy in the booming Tanzanian mining industry in the recent years and it is rated to be the gold leading producer in the country. The Canadian giant gold mining company has a policy that favours workers found with HIV virus infection.
"The company has a policy that insists zero discrimination against infected workers and nobody will be terminated just because he or she is HIV positive," Dr Cyprian said. "Our aim is to enable workers know their health status so that they can live a positive live and the campaign is part of ant-HIV/AIDS battle in working place," Dr Cyprian who is also in charge of the mine clinic explained.
The Mine's Social Club Committee has chipped in by organizing a lottery (bahati nasibu) that will involve all those who will turn up to test their HIV status. Winners of the lottery will be announced on December 1 and receive different prizes, an event that will go in line with marking of 2011 World AIDS Day. The prizes included refrigerators, microwaves, LG21 TV, safari bags, cell phones and blankets.
"This time we have introduced a lottery in a bid to encourage many people test and winners will be announced on December 1 which will be the World AIDS Day, " the Mines Health and Safety Acting Manager, Mr Reuben Esikia said.
Mr Esikia who is also the Mine's Social Club Committee chairman insisted that only workers who will turn up to test their HIV status will be eligible to take part on the lottery. The Mine's Social Club Committee is made up of 45 members including the General Manager, according to Mr Esikia. This is the second time for the mine to conduct a voluntary counselling and HIV testing.
The first campaign was held last year in which 1,200 workers turned up to know their health status, according to Dr Cyprian. Mining areas are said to be more prone to HIV virus infection in the country but the North Mara Gold Mine health officials estimates that there is only two per cent of the mine workers might be living with HIV virus at the moment.
"Last year the infection rate was two per cent and we expect this figure to go down this year because of efforts we are doing to prevent new infection," Dr Cyprian said. He cited training of peer educators from different sections as one of the things which had greatly helped to lower HIV virus infection rate at the mine which is located in the Northern Tarime, Mara Region.
"So far we have 30 trained peer educators from different sectors who are giving anti- HIV/AIDS education," said Dr Cyprian. Mr William Nyamohanga, one of the peer educators at the mine said they have been meeting their colleagues very often to discuss issues related to HIV/AIDS.
"We are educating people to treat positive and negative people equally and the effects of other sexual transmitted diseases (STD), " Mr Nyamohanga said. "We are also providing education on health reproductive health and how to prevent mother to child infection", the peer educator said.
The mining company has also been distributing thousands of condoms free of charge to interested workers through condom dispensers that have been placed in different corners of the mine.
"Personally I distribute an average of 500- 700 condoms every month and the demand is still high," said Nyamohanga. The mine distributes over 15,000 condoms every month and the number is likely to go up, according to Dr Cyprian.
"We have recently increased condom dispensers from 50 to 70 to enhance their accessibility and availability. "