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 Saturday 28 February 2009
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MOZAMBIQUE: Buried treasure, hidden risks

Photo: André Catueira/PlusNews
Miners panning for gold in Tete province
MARÁVIA, 10 September 2008 (PlusNews) - Gidion Mutata, 37, rolls up his shirt sleeves, picks up his tools and makes his barefoot way to his gold claim in the mining region of Marávia in Mozambique's northwestern Tete province.

Most afternoons are spent trying to sell what he finds, but his daily routine is usually not complete without alcohol and sex workers, who have set up shop near the camp to sell food, fruit and sex to the miners.

Mutata comes from Zumbo, on the Zambian border, and is one of more than 3,000 gold prospectors who have flocked to Marávia, where he has been living in a sprawling mining settlement for almost two years.

“None of us [miners] has a wife at the camp. A lot of them go to the shacks to buy food and also to buy sex,” Mutata told IRIN/PlusNews. “We’ve managed to extract gold and earn a lot of money, but not all [miners] have a clear notion of the preciousness of life when they visit prostitutes and practice unprotected sex.”

The district of Marávia, one of the wealthiest mining regions in Tete province, has witnessed an explosion in both the illegal exploration of mineral resources and HIV infection rates. Most of the miners in the province's 13 camps are men between the ages of 15 and 40.

Tete’s provincial director of mineral resources and energy, Adelaide de Jesus Pedro, cites the long periods they spend away from home, their high degree of mobility and a tendency to have extra time and money as factors putting this group at high risk of HIV infection.

The government has made HIV awareness-raising programmes and medical assistance to mining communities mandatory for the 250 companies with mining licenses operating in the province.

“We had to intervene with a joint programme in order to contain the HIV infection levels in the exploration areas because this group is threatened,” said Pedro. “This way, we can attend to AIDS patients who are a part of the mining communities.”

''We've managed to extract gold and earn a lot of money but not all [miners] have a clear notion of the preciousness of life when they visit prostitutes''
The mining companies, in partnership with the Tete Provincial Health Department, have set up satellite clinics to provide testing and treatment services to the communities around the mines. The sector has also established a Mining Promotion Fund that has invested in training facilitators to raise awareness of HIV.

“We’ve gotten good results. Many now see condoms as a protector of one’s health and accept testing and treatment services,” Pedro said.

Even so, discussing HIV with miners is not easy. The free condoms are welcomed, but talking about the issue of using them with their wives is difficult. Pedro recalled the silence that fell over the room when she referred to the reproductive organs by their real names during an educational seminar.

The mining communities are made up of people from diverse cultures, with beliefs in a variety of myths and traditions that make it difficult to design effective awareness-raising campaigns.

Some come from countries with high HIV prevalence rates such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and the Great Lakes region to prospect for and purchase gemstones.

The relatively low educational level of most miners is another factor that many campaigns fail to take into account. As a result, many are still ignorant of the need to practice safe sex.

Sex workers in the area tend to be better informed about HIV and AIDS than the miners, as they are given extensive education on the subject and have good access to prophylactics and HIV testing at the satellite clinics.

“Even when they are used to the same client, or when he asks for sex without a condom, many of them insist on safe sex because they’re aware of the risk of contracting infectious diseases and HIV,” said Anifa Sacanhi, 29, a sex worker from the city of Tete.

She added that although most women in her profession knew about the dangers of AIDS, the abuse of alcohol and drugs made them more likely to have unprotected sex.


See also: SOUTH AFRICA: The less shiny side of platinum

Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) Migration


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