AIDS cost misjudged by SA mining

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SOUTH African and international mining analysts think mining companies operating in the country don’t fully understand the cost HIV/AIDS on their operations, according to a survey by Deloitte.

Management respondents from the local gold production industry, which is generally labour-intensive deep-level mining, are unanimous that HIV/AIDS, which is estimated to have a prevalence rate of no less than 20%, is a significant problem.

Harmony Gold, for example, is doubling the amount it will spend on its HIV/AIDS programme in 2007.

One mining executive said: “We do not know if what we are doing is working. We just have to trust what our external medical providers tell us – the results will come out soon enough.”

Just 50% of platinum executives see the pandemic as a significant problem, according to the survey.

South African mines employ about 450,000 people, with the gold and platinum mines accounting for about 330,000.

Of the analysts polled, 82% thought mining companies did not fully grasp the total cost of HIV/AIDS on their business.

“HIV/AIDS is currently not the largest cost in any given year. However, I’m pretty sure once we find a more accurate way of measuring the cost impact, it will be the largest over a 30-40 year horizon,” an analyst is quoted in the survey as saying.

James Steele, who manages AngloGold Ashanti’s HIV/AIDS programme, said the company is spending R15m on its HIV treatment programme this year. It has 4,119 workers who attend its HIV clinics, of whom 1,350 are on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) treatment.

AngloGold Ashanti employs 31,000 people at its South African mines. The number of people attending the voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) courses offered by the company has been increasing steadily.

From 10% of the workforce undergoing VCT in 2004 to 30% coverage last year and 60% year to date.

“This has been a very pleasing success story of a number of success stories in the mining industry. More people are going for testing and a culture of testing is developing,” Steele told Miningmx.

One of the positive signs to come out of the increased testing is that the prevalence rates might be lower than the estimated 30% of the South African workforce.

“With our successes in VCT, we are starting to find those prevalence rates might be slightly less than we estimated. With the business units that have 100% VCT coverage, the HIV prevalence rates are closer to 25%,” he said.

The all inclusive cost per month of treating one patient with ART is R1,300. That cost has been reducing over time as drugs became cheaper and AngloGold Ashanti’s health service became more efficient, he said.

He estimated that 80% of patients on ART will bring their viral load below 400, which means they are able to return to work.

Harmony Gold’s HIV/AIDS programme will cost R10m this year and R19m next year.

Harmony has 1,234 workers on ART. It has repatriated 1,572 workers who are too sick to work in the 2006 financial year.

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on October 16, 2006 1:42 PM.

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