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Reprioritising existing occupational health threats in a time of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed a threat to global health systems and forced the restructuring of resources for healthcare the world over, including in respect of tuberculosis (TB), HIV and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). This is of serious concern to the Minerals Council South Africa, and should be of concern to all South Africans.
The Masoyise Health Programme traces its origins back to 2016 when the mining industry, labour, the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) and other government health institutions, first launched the Masoyise iTB campaign, under the auspices of the Minerals Council, to address the impact of TB on industry employees and communities. In 2019, Masoyise iTB became the more broadly focused Masoyise Health Programme.

The diagnosis and treatment of TB has been a significant success story for the mining sector. For many years, the industry experienced a TB incidence rate far higher than the rest of South Africa, but thanks to Masoyise, that is no longer the case illustrating the profound progress made to date. Similarly, finding and caring for employees with HIV has been a major industry drive, with a great deal of success achieved in ensuring that employees know their HIV status, and are treated so that they may live well with the disease.

Lessons learnt

“Over the past decades our industry and its stakeholders have had to develop substantial expertise in dealing with the spread of infectious diseases, and over the past few months, the industry has put that experience to good use. More than that, we place a great deal of emphasis on general employee wellness, a factor that we have seen has been to be very important during the pandemic. That said, the pandemic has been unprecedented and extremely challenging in many ways, not only for the mining industry, but the world over. And, particularly in South Africa, a country where health resources were already under pressure before the outbreak of Covid-19.

“Addressing the impact of Covid-19 on mining employees and communities required the reallocation of health resources which impacted existing programmes and services. Naturally, this was the right thing to do at the right time and we believe the industry did well under the circumstances to achieve a testing rate almost double, and a death rate almost half of the national average.

“But, we must not lose sight of pre-existing health threats including occupational diseases such as pneumoconiosis and other diseases like TB, HIV and NCDs which have a serious impact on employee and community health. It is for this reason that we have partnered with key local and international stakeholders to refocus our attention on existing diseases; to share our experiences in dealing with Covid-19; to listen to the experiences of experts who have dealt with Covid-19 in the rest of the world; and to ensure that the lessons we have learnt and the technologies we have developed in our efforts to address Covid-19 are put to good use going forward,” Dr Thuthula Balfour, head: health at the Minerals Council says.
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