MINING COMPANY CHANGING LIVES, ONE TB CASE AT A TIME

As the world observes World TB Day today, local mining leader, Exxaro, has announced its plans to drive an impactful, five-year TB initiative at its Grootegeluk mine in the Waterberg District in Limpopo.

Present in all countries and age groups, the bacterial disease is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide and the leading cause from a single infectious agent, even topping HIV. More so, TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV. According to the WHO, South Africa is considered a high TB-burden country, and alongside seven other countries, accounted for two-thirds of all new TB cases in 2019. Most TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, putting our local vulnerable communities at high risk. However, the disease is curable and preventable, with TB diagnosis and treatment saving an estimated 60 million lives between 2000 and 2019.

In response to this need for TB support, Exxaro joined forces with Anglo American, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Zutari and World Vision to form the Impact Catalyst. Together, they have proposed a far-reaching programme to support optimal primary healthcare in mining communities that are experiencing increasing HIV and TB infections.

Ready to start making a difference, the team contracted the University of Pretoria’s Community-Oriented Primary Care (COPC) Research Unit to identify high-prevalence communities that desperately need healthcare aid. Waterberg was pinpointed as one such community battling an HIV and TB crisis – with the two diseases cited as the leading causes of death among men and women in the 25 to 64 age group.

Considering Grootegeluk – one of Exxaro’s largest mining operations – is hosted in this region, the resources company felt a strong responsibility to step in and assist. As a proud corporate citizen, Exxaro invests significantly in improving the quality of life for the communities that surround its mines, fostering sustainable societies that can flourish. And fittingly, the objective of the organisation’s TB initiative is to change the health status, well-being, and productivity of these communities – starting with Waterberg.

The R19.7-million project will be run by Exxaro and the University of Pretoria over five years, with a gradual reduction in direct intervention by the COPC Research Unit. The mine and its entire host community will be included in primary healthcare optimisation, focusing on home-based healthcare, preventative care, and treating the most vulnerable community members first.

This entails regular home visits by trained community healthcare workers to screen for and help treat and manage any health condition, especially maternal, new-born and child health; HIV/AIDS and TB; non-communicable diseases; and violence and injury. Additionally, to ensure quality care, the initiative will enable health and disease management and COPC service provision, supported by constantly refined ICT. Community and faith leaders as well as multi-sectoral champions will be trained to improve their primary healthcare knowledge, in turn, supporting and leading their community members to become more health-literate and employable. These leadership figures and community social workers will also be appointed to identify and respond to social issues contributing to infections. Healthcare teams will regularly visit local schools to educate learners and teachers on basic primary care, sanitation, healthy living and nutrition, with the hopes of improving child healthcare in the long run.

Dr Joseph Matjila, Group Manager for Safety and Health at Exxaro, explains, “Given that the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the seriousness of health and well-being, we are more committed than ever to addressing the challenges of access to quality and affordable healthcare for our people.”

“This extends far beyond our employees and contractors and filters into our host communities throughout the country. Our goal is to ensure that our people are not merely fit for work, but fit for life and all its challenges. Over the years, we have created a proactive culture where our employees take responsibility for their own health and feel empowered to initiate medical assessments, health education and testing. We want to do the same thing in our communities, changing the way people think about their health status and putting the power back in their hands to take control of their lives,” Dr Matjila concludes.

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