Mining Company’s Testing Efforts Hampered by Migrant Labor System
Gold mining company AngloGold Ltd. had planned to launch a trial program offering free AIDS drugs to 1,000 of its miners and their wives in South Africa, but South Africa's "troubled labor system" and the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to provide free drugs for the trial have forced the firm to "scal[e] back" its plans, the Wall Street Journal reports. AngloGold has revised its trial plan to include "as few as 200 miners and no more than 800," and it now "remains unclear" when the trial will begin. The Journal reports that AngloGold is facing a "challeng[e]" in controlling HIV among its workforce because it employs "masses of migrant workers" who are separated from their families for extended periods of time and who often have access to "prostitution and casual sex." Although AngloGold has adopted some measures to minimize transmission risks among its workers --such as converting some single-sex hostels into housing for workers and their families -- such steps have been "only incremental," the Journal reports.
Costs of Migrant Labor
Some health experts and labor officials say that because of the conditions it produces, the migrant worker system "contributes" to the spread of HIV. Many public health officials contend that companies should classify HIV as an "occupational health hazard," which would require companies to pay compensation to infected workers. Robert Cowie, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, also noted that companies should stop relying on migrant labor to furnish their work force. "Until you do away with migrant labor, you will continue to fight these problems," he said. But AngloGold CEO Robert Godsell stated that "it hasn't been proved that the migrant-labor system contributes" to the spread of HIV. "Whether migrant miners are more at risk than other miners is an interesting proposition that requires some evidence," he said (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 6/26).