Thousands of Mozambican miners are returning to work in neighboring South Africa for the first time since borders closed in March due to COVID-19.
Five hundred miners screened for the virus by their hiring agency, have received health checks at an IOM cross-border Occupational Health Centre, which operates in cooperation with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. The center was created to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB), a condition which disproportionately affects mine workers.
The first group of workers who were called to return by mining companies are in quarantine in South Africa for 14 days. An additional 3,000 will be screened at the centre in the coming weeks.
IOM has decades of experience assisting its members states with a range of health and border management issues. The Organization advocates for the health-proofing of global mobility systems and sees the integration of migrants into the post-pandemic planning as a key to global socio-economic recovery efforts.
South Africa’s gold and platinum mines alone employ roughly 45,000 migrant workers and their skills are considered essential to the resumption of economic activity there.
“I have worked in South Africa for 31 years.” said a mineworker, Januario. “Here in Ressano Garcia I did my health check, all of the tests, I was approved and I am in good health, without illness.”
The arrangement between the two countries to allow the flow of properly screened labor migrant across the border by mainstreaming COVID-19 prevention measures is an example of what can be accomplished when governments are encouraged to discuss and plan together for the resumption of cross-border mobility. It is hoped that thousands of migrant workers, including those in the agricultural sector, with contracts in South Africa will soon become part of the same process.
The health check process at the clinic in Ressano Garcia has also been adapted to address public health concerns related to COVID-19. Prevention measures including multiple hand hygiene stations, physical distancing, the wearing of masks is required to protect both staff and patients all of whom receive detailed information about COVID-19 as part of the process.
The centre was launched with funding from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is currently supported by the World Bank.
Since opening in 2018, the centre’s program has evolved to include tests for diabetes, hypertension, and voluntary HIV testing is offered, in addition to tuberculosis screening. The services are being further upgraded to also include audiometry, vision acuity test, spirometry (lung capacity) and chest x-ray to detect other occupational illnesses.
From September 2018 until August 2019 IOM has screened over 18,000 Mozambican miners who work in South Africa for TB, in addition to diabetes and hypertension, and offered voluntary HIV testing. Through the effort, a total of 1,613 TB suspect cases were further tested and 97 new TB and/or HIV cases were discovered. Support to initiate and continue treatment in South Africa through a cross-border referral system is provided through implementing partner organization in South Africa, Right to Care.
“This centre is essential to protect the health of miners and their communities,” said the Ministry of Health’s Dr. Vânia Chongo-Faruk, Occupational Medicine Physician from the National Occupational Health Program-MISAU. “The services provided include conducting a health check both upon departure and return, and provision of follow up medical assistance including cross-border referrals for; this helps to ensure that these miners and migrant workers will receive the care that they need to continue their work and safely visit their families.”
Efforts to facilitate mobility by integrating public health into border management is also evident in IOM’s work with cross-border truckers at the Ressano Garcia and Machipanda border crossings. Since early June, IOM-trained facilitators have engaged with close to 7,500 cross-border truck drivers, providing COVID-19 prevention messages in local languages, with a focus on practical tips for handwashing and physical distancing.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Mozambican mine workers receive health checks at Ressano Garcia Occupational Health Center before they travel to South Africa. Photo: IOM/Sandra Black