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MINING HEALTH & SAFETY

AngloGold Ashanti’s malaria initiative is a game-changer

AngloGold Ashanti’s malaria initiative is a game-changer
An AngloGold Ashanti malaria control worker sprays the walls of a house with insecticide in Adansi Domeabra, near Obuasi, Ashanti Region. (Photo: Cristina Aldhuela / AFP)

The global company’s malaria prevention programme in Ghana shows how the mining industry can be a force for good.

In 2005, AngloGold Ashanti was losing three days per month per employee – more than 7,500 shifts – at its Obuasi mine in Ghana because of malaria. In terms of productivity, this was the equivalent of having a regular strike.

And for the wider communities, it was an unfolding health crisis that was cleaving a path of misery. The consequences included the stunting of the physical and mental development of children, robbing them of a future.

Almost two decades later, AngloGold has seen a more than 90% reduction in the number of malaria cases reported at its sites.

“The incidence rate in our mines is now approximately 2.95% of employees affected annually (end 2022) from a regional incidence of about 17.35% in 2015 – this varies from mine to mine,” Dr Bafedile Chauke-Moagi, vice president of group health at AngloGold, told Daily Maverick in an interview.

This laudable state of affairs is rooted in AngloGold’s malaria prevention initiative. Launched in 2005, it is widely regarded as world class. 

According to a case study by Johns Hopkins University’s Private Sector Malaria Prevention project, “[I]ts success helped secure Ghana a scale-up grant of $138-million from the Global Fund. 

“AngloGold Ashanti’s malaria control programme was the principal recipient of the grant’s fund, making it the first time a private company will perform a lead role for a Global Fund grant in Africa.”

Started with an indoor spraying programme and the provision of bed nets to all homes, the initiative now safeguards almost 1.3 million people from malaria. Work and school absenteeism have fallen by more than 90%.

Ripple effects

The ripple effects are many. Productivity has been lifted, while the health and educational benefits have boosted social relations around the company’s Obuasi mine. Now a key asset in AngloGold’s portfolio, a few years ago it was overrun by thousands of illegal miners.

Malaria has wider health impacts beyond falling ill for a period and possibly dying.

“There are linkages between high parasitemia (malaria parasite prevalence) that tends to prevail in asymptomatic children within high malaria burden settings,” Chauke-Moagi told Daily Maverick. This can lead to stunting and it can impair a child’s cognitive development.

“These children also tend to harbour the parasite and act as carriers for sustained and widespread transmission of malaria. We have noted significant reductions in the levels of parasitemia in the areas where AngloGold operates. 

“In the Upper West region, we saw a 53% reduction and in Upper East, we have seen a 66% reduction. It means that children’s cognitive abilities will not be impacted and they will not have learning disabilities,” Chauke-Moagi said.

Building on this success, AngloGold has rolled out this prevention model in Guinea and Tanzania, two other tropical African countries where it has operations.

“In Tanzania and Guinea, we work in partnership with government. We find them supportive, and they augment the programme quite significantly. We are seeing reductions in malaria infection rates at all our sites,” Chauke-Moagi said.

Headwinds

It’s not all smooth sailing, though. Climate change and the evolutionary response of mosquitoes are two notable headwinds.

“We have slight stagnation as we experience changes in weather patterns because of heavy rain, and mosquitoes are becoming resilient to some insecticides, so there has been a slight trajectory downward in the last while,” Chauke-Moagi acknowledged.

“Overall the reduction rate is significantly down from when we initiated the programmes. We review the change in rate reduction in the context around climate changes and as the mosquitoes evolve, but overall we have seen reductions.”

Samuel Asiedu, director of AngloGold’s malaria control programme, said this underlined the need to keep fine-tuning the response.

“Complacency can set in with a workforce infection rate of less than 1%. But we are not relaxing… Our primary aim is to eliminate malaria,” he told Daily Maverick.

The accumulation of data from the programme is like an archive that scientists – and, for that matter, historians and journalists – can tap to connect the dots.

“We collaborate with three universities in Ghana and have a strong research unit. This year we are working on two publications with data that we have. We have a partnership with IVCC [the Innovative Vector Control Consortium] and other NGOs. Our data also feeds into the Ghana malaria database,” Asiedu said.

ESG triumph

This initiative was first launched before the term ESGs – environmental, social and governance concerns – became embedded in the global corporate agenda.

It is easy to be cynical and dismiss ESGs as corporate buzzwords that can be used for whitewashing or greenwashing – and this is probably often the case.

Nor do such programmes absolve mining and other extractive industries, such as the oil sector, of their ruthless and exploitative history in Africa. 

AngloGold’s own history includes massive profits reaped from the unjust political economy of apartheid South Africa. And corporate malfeasance, including bribery and human rights abuses, has not ended on the world’s poorest continent.

But none of this means that credit cannot be given where credit is due.

AngloGold’s malaria initiative is an example of how the mining industry can be a force for good. 

A critic might say that absenteeism and productivity losses – in short, the pursuit of profit – were what probably prompted the company to commit capital to the programme in the first place, and it has no doubt more than paid for itself.

The response to this might be: so what? A more productive workforce is a reflection of a healthier workforce, and one of the key constraints to economic development and general wellbeing in Africa has been its onerous disease burden.

The mining sector does in many ways have a dubious legacy in Africa. This does not mean that it cannot leave behind more uplifting legacies for the future from its current activities. DM

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