Mining firms feel brunt of HIV

Anna Stablum

Anna Stablum

Around the globe, mining companies face a problem - the workers who haul up the earth's riches are contracting Aids, which hampers operations at a time when the de-mand for minerals is booming.

"The epidemic is extremely severe. It's worse than any of us admit to. There are a lot of undiagnosed cases that don't get reported," said Brian Brink, medical senior vice-president at Anglo American's South Africa operations.

He said Anglo realised it had a problem at its mines 21 years ago when four of its 18450 South African workers tested positive for the virus.

Over two decades later, with up to one in three workers infected and South Africa at the centre of a global pandemic, the firm said its prevention efforts had failed.

Worldwide the disease has killed some 30million people, double the number of World War One casualities. Miners are anxious to build on lessons learned in South Africa to try to stem the tide elsewhere.

The South African government, civil society and business have set up a five-year plan to tackle HIV.

Firms are enticing miners to take HIV-Aids tests by offering them prizes, sending mobile treatment units to the bush where sex workers operate and blanketing the region with condoms.

BHP Billiton - the world's largest mining company - said for every dollar it invests in HIV education and medical programmes, the return is fourfold in benefits such as reduced absenteeism and improved productivity.

BHP Billiton's regional health adviser for Southern Africa, Andre van der Bergh, said: "When we started our HIV programme we didn't wait for any government to say yes or no. If there is a risk for an organisation we take appropriate action." - Reuters