JAPHET Ndinenka is a former miner representing the Mine Retirees Workers Association (MRWA) and recently, he gave a touching story pertaining to the many ex-miners who get retired on medical grounds as a result of contracting Tuberculosis (TB).
Mr Ndenenka, who was lucky enough not to be retired on medical grounds, said his association was dealing with many miners who were retired on medical grounds at a time when most of them were not even close to the retirement age.
He said the decision to retire the miners was backed by a law that advocates the retirement of mine workers diagnosed with TB.
The said law does not allow for employment as a miner, or any person, who has suffered from TB in the past.
Narrating the ordeal of former miners who get caught up in this law, Mr Ndinenka said though there is provision of lifelong compensation, the money given was not enough compared to what the ex-miners used to get when they were in employment.
He complained that the money was not enough to even support the former miner’s families for their monthly household use.
He said this has led to many former miners giving up on life while some have gotten depressed even when they could still access to medication and other health facilities.
Mr Ndinenka said most of the former miners were even unable to support their families as they used to prior to being retired after getting ill.
“We have many ex miners who have been retired on medical grounds as a result of being diagnosed with TB. The compensation given is not enough to sustain someone, worse a family. It is negligible,” he said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the rate of contracting TB underground is seven times higher than in an open environment and hence miners were at a higher risk.It is in this regard that the law on TB in Zambia was enacted in the best interest of miners on grounds of the knowledge that was available on the disease during the time of enactment.
However, that law has brought more strife to many ex-miners than was anticipated.Families have lost hope and have lost loved ones as a result of depression due to the discrimination that comes when miners get retired as a result of the disease.
The law has also affected the country which has lost a lot of skilled manpower due to ignorance which would have been corrected had it been realised on time that TB was very much curable.
Rather than being helpful, the said law requiring miners to be retired when the contract TB can best fit the description of one “shooting oneself in the foot” because it as much as it was meant for the good of many, it did not serve the greater good.
According to the 2015 TB statistics compiled by the National Tuberculosis Leprosy Programme (NTLP), about 41,588 cases were recorded, which translated into 289 cases per 100,000 population.
Of these statistics, 39 per cent were in Lusaka and 21 per cent on the Copperbelt with Muchinga and Eastern Provinces having the lowest rates of three and two per cent respectively.
The WHO described the situation as an emergency, warning that TB in most African countries was an emergency, whereas in Zambia it was beyond being an emergency.
Medical data on the disease showed that mining communities had a higher prevalence rate than communities that did not have mining activities.
The Copperbelt Province alone had about 1,211 TB cases.The prevalence rates and the medical retirement prompted Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya to instruct the director of occupational health safety to draft a document that would aid in the repealing of the law that discriminated against mine workers who become infected with the disease.
Dr Chilufya said TB was curable and hence the need to repeal the law so as to help maintain manpower in the mines.“TB does not mean that now you can never work again. Zambia is going to review the archaic law that discriminates against people with TB,” Dr Chilufya said.
He directed the director of occupational health safety to immediately engage the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board and the Ministry of Mines to craft a document to start the process of repealing the law that compelled employers to retire miners who contracted TB in the mines.
He made this directive during the launch of a World Bank funded Southern African Tuberculosis and Health Systems Support Project (SATHSSP), of which Zambia was taking a lead in occupational health and safety, particularly in the mines.
He urged mine employers to prioritise the health of its employees, saying human resource remained their biggest assert.
Dr Chilufya urged employers in the mines to come up with health schemes and health corners to help those infected to be psychologically, emotionally and physically helped.Labour and Social Security Minister Joyce Simukoko called on the employers in the mining sector to have an approach that recognised and respected the rights of employees.
Ms Simukoko said it was important that the employers did not discriminate against employees who were found ill but rather render support to them so as to help them achieve enhanced recovery.
She urged miners and employees who would find themselves being discriminated against to report the employers found wanting.
World Bank Country Manager Ina Ruthenberg said the organisation recognised the burden of the disease in the southern African region and hence the reason why it has decided to fund the fight against TB.
The project is meant for four southern African countries namely Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho, all of which will receive a total of US$ 122 million, of which Zambia has been given US$45 million.
Ms Ruthenberg said the funding was in recognition of the leadership that existed in the named countries and the urgency of the disease burden.
“The World Bank support to the SATHSSP is in recognition of efforts by policy makers and political leaders in Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to address regional dimensions of the TB epidemic and to strengthen underlying health systems,” she said.
The money would help in the modernization of the Zambia Occupational Health and Safety Institute (ZOHSI) and align its service delivery with international best practices.
It is hoped that the funding and the repealing of the law would bring an end to the discrimination that most ex-miners suffer.With the law repealed, people who have suffered from TB will be free to be employed in the mining sector.