Farmworker HIV infection rates shock

DA Shadow Minister of agriculture Lourie Bosman said he’s shocked by the fact that more than half of the farmworkers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga are HIV positive after an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) study found that farmworkers in these provinces have the highest HIV prevalence among any working population in southern Africa.

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An average of 39,5% of farmworkers who tested were HIV positive – more than twice the UNAIDS estimated national prevalence for South Africa of 18,1%. Bosman believes that movement of large numbers of people to and from Mozambique and Zimbabwe could be an influence.

“The problem is exacerbated by the fact that government doesn’t have the capacity to deploy mobile clinics on all farms, and the workers often don’t have the means to get to the clinics. We need a wide-ranging education campaign on the disease in the agricultural sector.”

Conducted from March to May 2010 on 23 commercial farms in the Malelane, Musina and Tzaneen areas, the survey involved 2 810 farmworkers, who anonymously gave blood samples for HIV testing. HIV prevalence was significantly higher among female employees. Almost half of the women (46,7%) tested positive compared to just under a third (30,9%) of the male workforce.

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Malelane recorded the highest prevalence at district level, with 49,1% testing HIV positive. Government’s data puts the district’s prevalence at 34,9%. Malelane shares borders with Mozambique and Swaziland. The farmworker population in the area is roughly 60% South African, 24% Mozambican and 14% Swazi.

The study suggests the high HIV prevalence is caused by many factors, such as multiple partnerships, transactional sex, irregular condom use, sexually transmitted infections and/or TB. Dr Erick Ventura, IOM’s regional coordinator for migration health in southern Africa said,

“While new HIV infections among adults and young people have dropped nationally, it’s very worrying that the epidemic remains shockingly high in the commercial agricultural sector. “Even more disturbing is that no existing research can explain what’s making the farmworkers more vulnerable to HIV infection. More research is clearly needed.”