In 1902, Lord Alfred Milner, Britain's administrator in South Africa, appointed a commission to find out why so many workers in the territory’s lucrative gold and diamond mines were developing tuberculosis. Breathing in silica dust — abundant in mines and quarries — was the main culprit, the commission found. It said there was “urgent need” for reform to protect workers.
More than a century later, the fatal infectious disease has not eased its grip in the region. Miners in South Africa and neighboring countries have the highest TB infection rates in the world. In South Africa, the incidence of the disease was more than 1,000 out of every 100,000 people in 2012, and the country’s 2.5 million current and former mineworkers are most at risk.
But new efforts are underway to tackle the epidemic at a regional level and involve more mining companies in addressing the crisis.