South Africa to tackle TB among miners

Health officials in South Africa recently began an extended effort to fight tuberculosis in mines, where crowded working conditions and a pan-African workforce make the industry a danger for spreading the disease.

Drug resistant strains of TB are spreading among miners, whose infection rates are believed to be about three times higher than those of the regular population, primarily due to the cramped conditions, according to Reuters.

The disease is then spread further afield when foreign-born miners return to their homes. There are tens of thousands of foreign miners from Lesotho, Swaziland and other neighboring countries working in South Africa.

South African health officials have started to tie TB treatment and prevention to their HIV/AIDS campaigns. In preparation, they have brought new equipment and medicine to nearby clinics and hospitals.

"Mine-associated TB is the tip of the spear," Joel Spicer, a senior strategist at the Stop TB Partnership, said, Reuters reports. "Addressing this issue could transform the continental response to TB."

The Aurum Institute and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are also currently testing vaccine-type medicines in South Africa. They are using Isoniazid Preventive Therapy on the miners to reduce the risk of infection by about 60 percent.

"Our intention is to encourage all miners to be screened and tested for TB more frequently," David Mametja, the chief director of the South African health ministry's TB Control and Management department, said, Reuters reports.