CHICAGO, Illinois – Sub-Saharan Africa has been disproportionately devastated by Tuberculosis (TB). The region’s impoverished conditions facilitate the spread of the infectious disease, and the immuno-compromising effects of HIV continue to exacerbate the situation. However, further research has demonstrated that mining in sub-Saharan Africa, a vital industry for many sub-Saharan countries, is responsible for almost a third of all cases.
Today, mining continues to be a major catalyst of sub-Saharan economies. A vast majority of the region’s exports are minerals such as Gold, Chromium, Platinum and Uranium. In addition, miners account for a substantial percentage of the male labor force, especially in countries that suffer from anemic economic growth.
These miners are exposed to porous conditions that put them at high risk of contracting TB. The overly taxing labor that accompanies extracting resources weakens the immune systems of workers. In addition, epithelial inflammation is a common symptom amongst workers exposed to silica dust, an unfortunate byproduct of mining that adversely affects the lung’s ability to fight off infection. Many workers enter the workforce with HIV, and thus are already susceptible to contracting TB. These factors explain why the number of mine-related TB incidences has doubled in the last twenty years.
Research has repeatedly confirmed a high correlation between the level of mining output and the number of TB infections in Africa. For example, a study conducted by Associate Professor Mark Lurie investigated the impact of reduced mining output. Unsurprisingly, Lurie demonstrated that countries that made an effort to diversify their economies had less incidences of TB than neighboring countries that continued to rely on traditional mining industries.
However, technology has helped combat the problem. Anglo American, a South African coal mining company, has indicated that the number of TB incidences amongst their employees has decreased by 50 percent since 2012, due to innovative detection technologies, such as GeneXpert. Efforts to reduce the spread of TB have also led companies to monitor whether employees are adhering to their course of treatment to ensure that early detection leads to improved health.
However, these methods have their limits, considering these detection methods are not readily available to all African companies. Sustained economic growth is essential to tackle this endemic. Developed nations have the lowest rates of TB infection, as safe work environments and access to early-detection methods prove to be effective safeguards. For example, the United States population experiences a mere 3.2 cases per 10,0000. In comparison, Swaziland, a heavy-mining country in Sub-Saharan Africa, suffers 971 cases per 10,0000 people. Technological innovation and a more diverse job market will reduce sub-Saharan dependence on mining, and thus help reduce the spread of TB.
Finally, further research needs to be conducted to develop a vaccine for HIV and TB, a monumental task that requires more funding from developed nations such as the United States. The most effective method to prevent the spread of TB is to eradicate it entirely. Polio has been completely eradicated from North America as a result of the introduction of a viable vaccine. Such an incredible achievement can serve as a model for how to stop horrific infectious diseases like Tuberculosis. However, until that day, mining conditions need to be improved and sub-Saharan economies need to be diversified.