Mbombela — Mining giant, Anglo American, says the number of new Tuberculosis (TB) infections at its coal mines has halved in the past two years, dropping to under 340 cases per 100 000 workers.
Anglo American's chief medical officer, Dr Brian Brink, said on Wednesday that the company's Thermal Coal division, which operates nine coal mines in Mpumalanga and Gauteng, was recording the lowest TB incidence rate in its history.
"We have made impressive headway. Thanks to The Health Source, our advanced electronic health record system, our TB incidence rate currently stands at 340 per 100 000, significantly lower than 2012's 688 per 100 000," said Brink.
Brink said the Health Source system had dropped the rate to well below the national TB incidence rate of 943 per 100 000 people.
"The system has enabled our medical staff to continuously measure the rate of new HIV and TB infection as well as track adherence to medication and laboratory parameters, thereby progressively bringing the rate of infection down," Brink said.
Brink's statement comes after a meeting between ministers from Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and representatives from the World Bank last week, where it was revealed that one in three of Africa's five million mineworkers have TB.
"It is believed that 33 percent of TB on the African continent is somehow linked to mining activities," said Patrick Osewe, Lead Health Specialist for the Southern Africa region of the World Bank.
South Africa's mining industry has been identified as one of the industries with the highest rate of TB in the world.
According to Osewe, the prevalence of TB in the mining population is between 2500 and 3000 new infections per year.
Brink said that at Thermal Coal, preventative and treatment measures include screenings, questionnaires, chest X-Rays and laboratory tests, carried out on employees and contractors.
"If the possible presence of TB is detected, medical personnel immediately take steps not only towards the patients' recovery but to avoid the further spread of the disease.
"TB can be successfully treated. With the proper combination of early diagnosis, completing treatment and support, we can limit the impact TB has on our people, our communities and our lives," said Brink.
The Health Source system has been adopted by Anglo's sister company Kumba Iron Ore, and is being offered to other mining companies via the South African Chamber of Mines as the basis for a shared occupational and primary health care system.
In September 2013, Anglo American settled a multi-million Rand lawsuit with 23 miners and widows of miners, who claimed to have contracted silicosis, a deadly lung disease, while working at mines in South Africa.
Mineworkers are at a higher risk of contracting TB due to increased contact with disease-causing silica dust, crowded living conditions and high HIV infection rates. Government's intervention
Meanwhile, government has also stepped up its efforts to fight TB in prisons and mines by using GeneXpert technology which detects TB within hours.
Deputy President and chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), Kgalema Motlanthe, earlier this week said they have started a process to make GeneXpert technology available in these centres, and developed guidelines on the management of TB and HIV.
GeneXpert enables the diagnosis of TB infection within two hours.
The Deputy President said that as of October 2013, every South African has had access to GeneXpert with South Africa's toll continuing to account for more than 50% of current global GeneXpert tests in the world.