“Not every public health disaster can be described in numbers”

South African miners face the highest incidence of Tuberculosis (TB) in the world – 7,000 cases per 100,000 people/year or 1,400 times the incidence of TB that exists in Western countries. Over 98% of mine workers never receive compensation for the lung disease they acquire while on the job.

And yet, the high rates of TB among South African mine workers have been described for over a century. A 1903 South African Milner Commission Report states, “The extent to which miner’s [TB] prevails at the present time is so great, that preventative measures are an urgent necessity… ”

At what point does continued description of a public health disaster with a known cure become unethical? How many migrant mine workers must die only to be literally be replaced by sons who will no doubt face the same fate?

On today’s episode of Health Justice Radio, we speak with Jonathan Smith a former grad student in Epidemiology at Yale University who travelled to South Africa to study HIV and TB among mineworkers only to find that not every public health disaster can be described in numbers. He is working on producing a film, “They Go to Die,” which follows the lives of four migrant mine workers as they return home from the mines. We speak with him about the need for accountability in research, among mining companies, and within the South African government.

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