Mining operations in Africa could be driving the whole continent's tuberculosis epidemic a new Oxford-led study has found.
The study suggests that mining in sub-Saharan Africa is spreading the disease.
Researchers at Oxford and Brown universities, the University of California, San Francisco and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimate that the mining industry in Africa might be implicated in as many as 760,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year, due to factors such as silica dust in mines, crowded working and living conditions, and the spread of HIV.
"Men travelling from afar to work in mines, such as from Botswana to South Africa, are at the greatest risk of getting tuberculosis," the study found.
Pass on to family
"But their wives, children, and friends are also at high risk when miners travel back and forth to work, often many times a year."
This meant that even if mining clinics successfully diagnose tuberculosis in miners and started treatment appropriately, the message was often not relayed back to doctors who worked at the miners' hometowns.
The authors of the study suggest this disruption of treatment posed a major threat of developing a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis.
Mining companies should work with government
The report, published in the American Journal of Public Health, concludes that mining companies and governments must work together to achieve "similar levels of risk to those observed in Western mines", especially since mines in Africa were owned by the same companies.
To do this, the researchers indicated that health care programmes should emphasise continuity of care as miners travelled across borders and they should routinely screen miners in order to detect tuberculosis at an early stage.
The study also highlighted the need to improve poor working conditions and reduce the miners' exposure to silica dust.
"Improving living and health care conditions for miners may be necessary not only for the miners, but for controlling tuberculosis epidemics throughout sub-Saharan Africa," Dr David Stuckler, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford said.
Tuberculosis has been on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years with a doubling of the yearly annual incidence from 173 to 351 per 100,000 population between 1990 and 2007. - (Sapa, June 2010)