Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There is Always More Than One Way to Prevent a Disease from Spreading

A church spokesperson in Botswana has said that the only way to win the battle against HIV is to change people's behaviour. It's true that people need to change their behaviour but that is by no means the only way to fight against HIV.

The church leaders could consider Botswana's main source of revenue. It's not very difficult, mining accounts for something like 70% of the country's total revenue. Areas around extractive industries in African countries have some of the highest rates of HIV anywhere.

Why is this? Well, most of the extractive industries are controlled by a few, extremely rich firms, who are usually foreign and absentee. They pay as little as possible in taxes and they are usually able to keep their costs low with the help of obligingly lax labour laws.

So millions of poor people migrate for long periods to the slums that grow around the mines. These slums are mostly inhabited by male workers, without their wives and families. Some mining firms even provide accommodation for their employees but it is almost always dormitory accommodation and of a very low standard.

Unsurprisingly, some women also move to these slums to find work, mainly as sex workers. There is little to do in dormitory accommodation during free time, aside from going to bars and sleeping with sex workers. People become infected, people infect other people.

Extractive industries come with many hazards, poor health and disease being just some of these hazards. TB, for example, is very common, as are other occupational conditions. So some healthy and some sick people all come together and the result is many sick people who then return to their home areas to infect their wives and families.

Rather than just praying for people to change their behaviour, they could approach the owners of extractive industries, many of whom, I'm sure, are Christians. They could also lobby politicians, another group that should contain some Christians. And here are a few things they could ask them to do:

- Improve labour laws so that workers, including migrants and seasonal migrants, are protected
- Improve health services and health screening and allow access to all employees
- Improve working conditions for those in and around the mines
- Improve living conditions, perhaps by providing proper housing and infrastructure
- Provide married/family accommodation for those who need it
- Provide sources of entertainment for people, things to do aside from drink
- Provide subsidized transport for husbands/fathers to visit families or for families to visit husbands/fathers
- Provide decent wages and benefits for miners and other workers
- Protect small landowners and artisanal miners who are affected by big mining operations moving in

Apparently substantial amounts of gold have just been found in Kenya. So there is plenty that church leaders here can do to avoid their future mining areas experiencing the sort of HIV transmission levels as those found in Botswana.

Diseases are not just spread by individual behaviour. The conditions in which people live, in which the behaviour takes place, are also important. These conditions can and must be influenced and changed.



Tamaku said...

Hi Simon, I love your passion, you are a beautiful soul. We are still in England since our loss and looks like we will be here for a while yet. Please drop me an email if you return soon, I'd like to meet.

Simon said...

Hi Tamaku
I hope things are feeling better for you and you can get your lives back to normal soon.

Thanks! Some people just say I'm angry and there may be some truth in that.

It would be a disaster for me financially if I had to return to Europe soon but I'll certainly let you know if I do.
All the best, take care