This past Saturday, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, spoke at an event held at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The event was being held in observance of World Tuberculosis Day–a bacterial disease that has become all too common among South African mine workers. Individuals within this particular profession have been known to have a greater risk of contracting the disease due to the heavy presence of silica dusk within their working environment. Although silica is nothing more than a mineral found in rocks and soil, repeated inhalation of the mineral can lead to serious implications. In fact, a staggering 22,000 mine workers are infected with the disease yearly. However, TB is not the only illness in which these mine workers must battle daily; there is that widespread virus that occurs outside the workplace: HIV. Between 60%-70% of mine workers who have been infected with TB have also been infected with HIV as well. But these startling statistics have not stopped South Africa from doing all that it can to combat these two life-threatening illnesses.
Standing before an audience that included Gold Fields mine workers and their mining managers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers and government representatives, Motlanthe vowed that the South African government would continue its initiative in supplying its citizens with the programs needed to successfully thwart TB and HIV. As a matter of fact, Motlanthe states that within the last few years, South Africa has made testing for TB and HIV more of a regular initiative, as opposed to an initiative that arises only during emergency outbreaks. Nick Holland, CEO of Driefontein Gold Fields mine, has also hopped on the bandwagon in making TB testing more readily available for his own mine workers. At the event, he spoke of the necessity of Gold Fields mine being able to diagnose TB in its earlier stages, as well as being able to develop more efficient means for testing for TB.
Even so, the progress that South Africa has made in their fight to stop the spread of TB has been incredibly noteworthy thus far. Just last year, South Africa embarked on a new approach in actually traveling to the homes of individuals who have had contact with a TB infected person. Furthermore, individuals were also tested and educated about HIV. During that mission, roughly 160,000 people were screened, where 3,000 individuals tested positive for TB. What is more, another 3,200 individuals actually tested positive for HIV. In addition to home screenings, since last year, South Africa has also been utilizing the GeneXpert machine, enabling the successful diagnosis of drug-resistant and drug-sensitive TB patients. At the moment, South Africa is number one in the manufacture of GeneXpert tests, having completed roughly 300,000 tests.
I think that it is important to acknowledge here that although South Africa is still in some aspects a developing nation, the initiatives, however, that the Country appears to be taking in the prevention of TB and HIV, in my opinion, would illustrate its advancement into a developed nation. When a nation’s own government makes it their endeavor to provide the utmost care to their citizens, a sense of unity transpires between all. As we saw in class during our attempts to revise TRIPS, it was difficult for us to come to an agreement on how high-income and middle-income countries could not only efficiently provide foreign aid to low-income countries, but also continue to recognize some of their own personal goals as well. In my opinion, South Africa sets a wonderful example of the potential that developing and also underdeveloped nations have in terms of the combat of life-threatening epidemics.