Experts also say stereotyping, stigmatisation and discrimination are common in many mines, with sufferers being treated with a lack of compassion. South Africa's mining sector contributes about 6,6 percent to gross domestic product, and gold and platinum producers are considered to be the largest employers with almost 455 000 workers. The sector depends mostly on physical labour for production. The foundation's researcher, David van Wyk, says it is difficult at the moment to determine the exact HIV and AIDS prevalence figures because the majority of the workers were resistant to participating in HIV voluntary testing programmes. He says if all workers were willing to be tested, the figures would be higher.
Among those who have tested HIV positive, Van Wyk says, there is a low uptake of antiretroviral treatment (ART) as most workers are afraid of being subjected to discrimination by managers and supervisors. Most speakers at the recent South African Business Coalition Against HIV and AIDS conference said the time has come for South African industries to realise the effect that HIV and AIDS has on the production and wellbeing of workers and their families. Speakers expressed disappointment that most companies did not have accurate information on the number of employees infected with the virus or those already on ART programmes. It has been alleged that most mining supervisors are not supportive. Instead, they tend to punish sick workers, who are battling the side effects of ART.
So far, it is not clear how the disease is affecting mining productivity since many companies are sensitive about releasing figures and statistics. According to Lee Sarkin, corporate subcommittee member of the Actuarial Society of South Africa, there is no consensus on how many people were receiving ART in the South African private sector. Mineworkers were most vulnerable because of the apartheid-inherited migration labour system through which workers spend many months away from their families. They remained the most affected group. The single-sex hostel systems still exist in many mining companies. These hostels mean that miners cannot be with their partners, resulting in some workers having sex with prostitutes, exposing them to the risk of HIV and AIDS. Eric Gcilitshana, the National Union of Mineworkers' health and safety secretary, says 60 percent of mineworkers are still living in same-sex hostels. We are saying the hostel system must be abolished and be replaced by family units, where workers will live with their families, he says.
The union is trying to engage with mining companies on the victimisation of infected workers and treatment available to them. These remained some of the biggest challenges towards the ultimate emancipation of mineworkers. Tim Quinlan, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division, says most mining companies have good voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) programmes but there was a poor uptake rate of ART and active follow-ups. His assertion was supported by Joy Beckett, HIV and AIDS manager of operations at De Beers. She says De Beers has a treatment programme in place but not every infected worker is coming for treatment. In De Beers' South African mines, HIV and AIDS prevalence is at 10 percent, and 75 percent of workers have taken part in voluntary testing.
A big problem is that those who tested positive are reluctant to take treatment. Professor Quinlan says that he conducted a R3-million internationally funded study about the rate of VCT and ART uptake at two of De Beers' diamond producing mines, Finch and Kimberly. He says out of the workers randomly selected, 85 percent of them were happy to participate in the VCT programmes, but there was non-adherence to ART. It seems confidentiality is a problem. Workers do not trust their supervisors.