People working and living in mining communities could be six times more at risk of contracting tuberculosis than those in other occupations, Government has said. Deputy director of Aids and Tuberculosis in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Charles Sandy, said the statistics were based on trends coming from other countries such as South Africa, Botswana and those of Zimbabwe.
However, Dr Sandy said current statistics on TB prevalence in Zimbabwe were not disaggregated by occupation.
He said mine workers were at high risk of TB due to continuous exposure to minerals such as silica.
He said this while addressing participants attending a two-day consultative meeting on TB in mines and mining communities.
"Silica is a common mineral that is part of sand, rock and mineral ores like quartz. Continuous breathing of tiny bits of silica dust can cause fluid build-up and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts down one's ability to breathe, a condition known as silicosis," said Dr Sandy.
He said silicosis was one of the major drivers of TB infection, accounting for about 30 percent and ranking second to HIV and Aids.
Dr Sandy said following these revelations, Zimbabwe was now working on determining the actual prevalence of TB in mines and mining communities in order to come up with clear response interventions.
He said TB data collection would now include one's occupation.
Senior TB and laboratory analysts with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) Zimbabwe, Ms Ana Svoren, said an estimated 632 025 miners were working in Zimbabwe.
She said according to a recent study on TB in mining communities, the majority of miners in the informal sector or working for small mining companies had no access to health care services.
"While anecdotal information exists across different ministries and mining groups to suggest a high prevalence of TB among miners, there is no structured reporting system in place. Existing data covers small samples and has not been made public," she said.
Ms Svoren said there was need to develop methodology for estimating the size and distribution of the informal mining sector and measuring TB rates in this population.
She also said there was need to follow up on former mine workers to assess their health status.
TB is a major national health problem in Zimbabwe accounting for over 35 000 cases in 2013 from which 19 832 were men and 15 508 were women.