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Focus on HIV/AIDS initiatives in mining areas
Wednesday 9 March 2005
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TANZANIA: Focus on HIV/AIDS initiatives in mining areas

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

DAR ES SALAAM, 11 July (PLUSNEWS) - An international medical NGO, the African Medical and Relief Foundation (AMREF), is currently implementing HIV/AIDS projects initiated by mining companies in Tanzania, with the aim of reducing the spread of the disease among mine workers and the communities around the mines.

AMREF has been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country for over a decade.

Dr Eva Matiko, the project officer with the AMREF Mine Health Project in the gold mining town of Geita, Mwanza Province, northern Tanzania, told PlusNews on 20 June that there was a problem of HIV prevalence in mining areas, hence the need for intervention.

Indeed, Tanzania has a long history of artisanal gold mining. Whenever a gold rush occurs, prospecting miners descend on riverbeds to seek their fortunes, and only return to their homes once the excitement fades and gold becomes too hard to find. But it is during these rushes that interaction between the miners and the surrounding community often leads to an increase in sexual activity, and a corresponding increase in HIV infection.

The problem has increased of late, since the East African country has opened up its largely unexploited gold reserves to international mining companies.

During the last five years alone, at least five large-scale gold mines have been opened, all of which are part owned by multinational companies with interests worldwide.

As the companies export tonnes of gold and the government receives millions of dollars in royalties, the HIV/AIDS concern persists, and mining companies are being called on to tackle the darker side of the impact of attracting large numbers of young, single men to participate in the industry.

Because of the sudden influx of money and people, mining towns have been known to register drastic increases in HIV/AIDS prevalence, hence the efforts by mining companies to initiate projects aimed at creating awareness in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.

Rising to the challenge

One such company is the Geita Gold Mine (GGM) owned by Ashanti Gold of Ghana and Anglo Gold of South Africa. The company operates a large-scale open-cast mine in the Mwanza region; an area which, because of the trucking route around Lake Victoria, already experiences several HIV-related problems.

"The bottom line is that we have responsibility to our employees and our community," Peter Turner, the Geita mine chief executive officer, told PlusNews. "We believe that we have to be involved and I believe that you need to address it aggressively with some sort of commitment."

He said the firm had agreed to tackle the issue as there were costs of doing business anywhere.

"We heeded the call and drew on our shareholders capacity to fight HIV/AIDS and have been raising money to fight AIDS on a national level, but also in areas that are close to the heart of the community," he said.

Geita mine organised its second annual Mt Kilimanjaro Challenge for HIV/AIDS from 30 May to 5 June. The 2003 effort, which raised some US $100,000 for HIV/AIDS projects nationally and in Geita District and sought to reduce the stigma borne by people infected with HIV in the country, saw 47 people reach Africa's highest peak.

Geita mine says that while it and its local contractors will be organising annual climbs of Mt Kilimanjaro to raise money for HIV/AIDS initiatives, it has also established a budget for HIV/AIDS programmes in and around Geita. Currently, the budget stands at $60,000 annually.

AMREF is implementing the Geita mine HIV/AIDS project, and several others funded by different mining companies in Tanzania.

The HIV/AIDS highway

"The area has a history of artisanal mining but, most importantly, Geita is on the trucking route around the edge of Lake Victoria, so HIV prevalence was high," Matiko said.

"While prevalence among the mineworkers was only at 4 percent, as they live in Geita and they interact with people with a high prevalence, potentially, there is a great problem," she added.

She said the problem stemmed from the fact that the majority of the mineworkers were young single men who had emigrated to Geita and, among the high risk women that work in 50 bars and hotels in the town, AMREF found HIV prevalence to be 39 percent

In order to tackle this, the Mine Health Programme runs regular workshops on sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS for all staff on the mine site as well as among the Geita community where large numbers of the miners live and socialise.

The Geita mine funding has also led to the establishment of an HIV information centre in Geita town that is run in collaboration with the district health authorities and provides voluntary counselling and testing for everyone in the community. Parallel to the centre is a programme of training community and peer health educators to try and spread the message about HIV/AIDS.

Margaret, one of the 23 high-risk women who work in bars and as sex workers but have been persuaded to join the peer health educator scheme, said that they were trying to make people understand the dangers of HIV/AIDS, but that it was still sometimes difficult to drive the message home.

"Some of the men listen, others don't," she said. "Many of the elder men are more difficult to persuade about the importance of using condoms as they think that they have got that far without suffering, so they cannot get ill now."

The AMREF project in Geita is one of two in collaboration with a large-scale gold mining company. It has a similar scheme with Kahama Mining Corporation, which runs an underground mine in the northern region of Shinyanga. The Kahama programme involves more focus on capacity training of voluntary counselling and testing services and a social marketing scheme, whereby peer health educators sell condoms within the community.

Africa Mashiriki, a company active in the Mara region, has also called on AMREF to conduct a baseline survey to establish the extent of the HIV problem in the areas in which the firm operates. On its part, AMREF said it had conducted low-level basic health training in Nzega mine, Tabora region and Meremeta mine in Mwanza.

More needs to be done

The Tanzanian Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) says that the consequences of increased mining in the country without companies accepting their social responsibilities were potentially disastrous.

"The development of large-scale mining poses a huge threat to the fight against HIV/AIDS," Herman Lupogo, the TACAIDS chairman, told PlusNews.

"It means a lot of people assembling together in one area and, because of the 'men and money' factor, attracts women who want to make money out of the service industry along side the mining," he said.

"But the major companies are serious about tackling this and we commend them for their efforts," he added.

However, Lupogo said that their efforts alone would be insufficient, as greater combined effort was needed among companies, district health authorities and NGOs so that interventions would not be limited to isolated groups of people in mining areas.


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