In a bid to stem the escalating Tuberculosis (TB) incidences in the country, the Ministry of Health is working towards implementing an occupational and health safety plan in the small scale mining sector.
TB remains a major public health concern in Lesotho and globally, as it is one of the top ten causes of death from a single infectious agent ahead of HIV and AIDS.
According to the World Health (WHO) TB report of 2021, Lesotho has the highest TB incidence rate of 650 per 100,000 population; ranking it number one in the World among TB burdened countries.
In a recent interview with Lesotho Express, the TB and Leprosy Manager, Dr Llang Maama, said Lesotho was making several strides in fighting TB, adding that they are presently targeting the small scale mining sector.
She said small scale mining sector had historically run illegal operations, which were putting miners at risk of TB due to the absence of a health safety regulated system and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Dr. Maama told this publication that one of the projects they were going to invest in, is ensuring that small scale mining embraces health and safety to reduce the workers’ risk of getting lung diseases including TB.
“TB is part of the TB in the Mining Sector (TIMS) supported through the regional Global Fund grant,” she said
“We are yet to work on several activities where we are going to evaluate and monitor issues of health and safety compensation, as well as looking into whether there are laws that will allow enforcement and implementation of health and safety in the mining sector.
“We are doing this activity collaboratively with the support of the Southern Africa TB health support, where through that we have an occupational health specialist who oversees the mines’ inspections to avoid the spread of lung disease.
“These are all in the preliminary stage, but we are working on them at regional level with other countries coordinated by the East, Central and Southern African Health Community.”
She said both projects’ aim is to help countries to be strengthened in the area of coordination and presence of laws that are used to enforce health and safety compliance of loss and regular inspections of mining sites.
Dr. Maama added that while they were making efforts in fighting TB in the mining sector, there are other challenges to the increasing number of TB incidents in the country.
She said the main drivers include HIV, poverty, malnutrition, smoking with miners, ex-miners, People living with HIV (PLHIV), Health Care Workers, factory workers, children, and inmates.
“This is because of being enclosed in poorly ventilated places for a long time,” She added.
Speaking about the other challenge contributing to the increase of TB cases, she said illegal mining was another contributing factor.
Dr Maama said: “Those working in illegal mines are equally at risk, more so because they do not use PPE and their lungs are at risk of mine dust.”
“We do not have statistics of such, but any mining whereby dust control is not observed, the risk will always be high. We target these groups through TB screening so that it be picked on time.
“Efforts on the ground will yield results only when Basotho are responsive to the call to come to our screening campaigns, especially men and the elderly who face a high prevalence as per 2019 TB prevalence survey.”
While Lesotho is making stride to address the TB burden, TB remains a global problem in the Southern Africa mining sector according to the World Bank report of 2019.
The report shows that in South Africa TB rates in the mining workforce is estimated at 2500 to 3000 cases per 100 000 individuals.
“This incidence is ten times the WHO threshold for a health emergency, and is also nearly three times the incidence rate in the general population of the estimated 500 000 mine workers in South African mines. Approximately, 40 percent of these workers originate from Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique.
Still on the issue of TB being a global problem two months ago, ECSA-HC held a TB media training for Journalists in the SADC region in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to call their attention on the impact they can make in the fight against TB through their reporting.
During the training, the Senior Programme for TB and Communicable Diseases Dr. C Sandy said globally, the burden of TB remains high as it’s remained the biggest cause of death from infectious agents in the past five years.
Dr Sandy said SADC also made a declaration through its respective health ministers from Lesotho, South Africa and Eswatini to fight TB with the technical support of the World Bank.