Mines’ Aids crisis deepens

The Aids crisis on South Africa's mines is worsening, with indications that the disease is now spreading among South African miners and into the communities surrounding the compounds. A spokesman for the Chamber of Mines, Peter Bunkell, said yesterday that a total of 2 500 carriers of the HIV-virus had now been identified among black miners, the vast majority of them from Malawi. However, one source within the industry claimed the figure was almost 4 000 and was doubling every eight months, which meant that there could be 16 000 cases by the middle of next year.

Bunkell said that the Chamber's medical advisors thought eight months was a normal doubling rate for Africa, but that there had not been sufficient research yet to arrive at an accurate figure. According to the New Scientist, it is is now believed that up to three-quarters of people infected with the HIV-virus will develop either Aids symptoms or other severe infections within nine years.

Bunkell said about 2 000 Malawian miners had now been diagnosed as carriers of the Aids virus. This represents an increase from less than four percent when the miners were first tested in the middle of 1986 to a total of about 10 percent of the Malawians today. An even greater increase is recorded among non-Malawians: from about 40 in mid-1986, according to Chamber figures, to 500 today.

Bunkell pointed out that this represented only about 0,06 percent of miners, which he said was not high for the population as a whole. However, there has been no comprehensive testing programme since mid-1986 so the exact figure is not known and the 500 could be a fraction of the total.

In another development file South African Medical Journal has reported the case of a mother and her daughter in the Rustenburg area who have been infected with the virus by a Malawian miner. The young girl, who is now 13, must have been infected when she was still 11 as the man returned to Malawi two years ago. The authors note that this and another recorded case "serve notice that more black South Africans withAids will be seen at our clinics and hospitals from now on".

Bunkell said that in 1986, when the Chamber tested prostitutes, on a voluntary basis, living close to the mining compounds, they discovered no incidence of the virus and that last year doctors were still claiming no black South Africans had yet shown Aids symptoms. Bunkell said several hundred thousand rand had now been set aside for further testing of prostitutes living close to the mines. The spread of the virus among South African miners and into the compounds has placed a serious question mark on the efficacy of the government's harsh solution that HIV carriers be repatriated to Malawi.

A paper by researchers Jean Leger and Karen Jochelson, to be published by the journal Critical Health, argues that the mines are being forced to repatriate terminally ill workers who receive no compensation and that little is done to prevent the spread of the disease to their families and communities. "Efforts to prevent the spread of Aids that merely concentrate on education and counselling do not recognise the social and political factors that contribute to unsafe sexual practices," says the paper.

The authors say the single sex migrant labour system institutionalises many factors that facilitate the spread of Aids: long absences of men from their partners, those left at home seeking new relationships and single sex hostels creating a market for prostitution. They say very little is known about the sexual practices of migrant labourers and there is an urgent need for information and educational campaigns about Aids.

A recent paper by Dunbar Moodie on male sexuality on the South African gold mines suggests that homosexual relationships on the mines tend to be monogamous rather than promiscuous.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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