Oscillating migration and the epidemics of silicosis, tuberculosis, and HIV infection in South African gold miners

Am J Ind Med. 2010 Apr;53(4):398-404. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20716.


Background: Hundreds of thousands of men from rural areas of South Africa and neighboring countries have come to seek work in the gold mines. They are not immigrants in the usual sense as they work for periods in the mines, go home, and then return. This is termed oscillating or circular migration. Today we have serious interrelated epidemics of silicosis, tuberculosis, and HIV infection in the gold mining industry.

Methods: This article discusses the role of oscillating migration in fuelling these epidemics, by examining the historical, political, social, and economic contexts of these diseases.

Results: The impact of silicosis, tuberculosis, and HIV infection extends beyond individual miners to their families and communities.

Conclusion: Failure to control dust and tuberculosis has resulted in serious consequences decades later. The economic and political migrant labor system provided the foundations for the epidemics seen in southern Africa today.

MeSH terms

  • Black People
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Gold
  • HIV Infections / complications
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV-1
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mining*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Politics
  • Silicosis / complications
  • Silicosis / epidemiology*
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Transients and Migrants*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / complications
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / epidemiology*


  • Gold