TB free breathing in the mines of South Africa: New TB vaccines could transform mining across the region
In this guest post, Kari Stoever, vice president of External Affairs at Aeras, writes about how mine workers are disproportionately affected by tuberculosis (TB) and why there’s an urgent need for new tools against this deadly disease.
Deep underground, in cramped quarters, with silica dust floating through the air, the hacking cough of a miner with TB is a familiar sound. Mine workers in sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rates of TB in the world, with wide spread consequences in communities throughout the region. It is estimated that mining is responsible for as much as 760,000 new cases of TB each year, making it the single biggest driver of the TB epidemic after HIV.
Not only does TB contribute to the dangers of mine work, but it also decreases economic viability. Each year, the mining industry loses around $570 million in productivity costs, and miners lose $320 million per year in lost wages, due to TB.
Fifteen South African nations, known as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have pledged to confront the TB epidemic in the mines through investing in treatment and control programs. While these efforts are to be commended, the ultimate solution is to invest in new vaccines to prevent TB. Recently published study results in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when South African miners were given universal isoniazid preventive therapy—intended to prevent the progression of latent TB to active disease—there was no lasting effect on TB incidence among mineworkers. Because rates of TB are so high in this community, significantly reducing the spread of TB will only be possible with transformative new technologies to effectively halt transmission.
What needs to happen for the mining industry to support research and development (R&D) for new TB vaccines?
- Governments must unlock resources for TB R&D.
- Health experts must educate policymakers about the need for new tools—such as vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics.
- Mining industry decision-makers must partner with research organizations to advance TB R&D to protect their workforce and to improve productivity and reduce operating costs.
Supporting R&D for new tools to diagnose, treat, and prevent tuberculosis will be an integral part of making southern African mines safer. This week, Aeras is at Investing in African Mining Indaba, the world’s largest mining investment event, to discuss potential ways to partner with governments and mining industry officials to address the TB threat.
View the slideshow and check out the infographic to learn more about the deadly combination of tuberculosis and mining, and join us in spreading the word and advocating for new TB vaccines to protect mineworkers.