Silicosis, tuberculosis and silica exposure among artisanal and small-scale miners: A systematic review and modelling paper

PLOS Glob Public Health. 2023 Sep 21;3(9):e0002085. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0002085. eCollection 2023.


An estimated 44 million artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM), largely based in developing economies, face significant occupational risks for respiratory diseases which have not been reviewed. We therefore aimed to review studies that describe silicosis and tuberculosis prevalence and respirable crystalline silica (RCS) exposures among ASM and use background evidence to better understand the relationship between exposures and disease outcomes. We searched PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus and Embase for studies published before the 24th March 2023. Our primary outcome of interest was silicosis or tuberculosis among ASM. Secondary outcomes included measurements of respirable dust or silica, spirometry and prevalence of respiratory symptoms. A systematic review and narrative synthesis was performed and risk of bias assessed using the Joanna Briggs Prevalence Critical Appraisal Tool. Logistic and Poisson regression models with predefined parameters were used to estimate silicosis prevalence and tuberculosis incidence at different distributions of cumulative silica exposure. We identified 18 eligible studies that included 29,562 miners from 13 distinct populations in 10 countries. Silicosis prevalence ranged from 11 to 37%, despite four of five studies reporting an average median duration of mining of <6 years. Tuberculosis prevalence was high; microbiologically confirmed disease ranged from 1.8 to 6.1% and clinical disease 3.0 to 17%. Average RCS intensity was very high (range 0.19-89.5 mg/m3) and respiratory symptoms were common. Our modelling demonstrated decreases in cumulative RCS are associated with reductions in silicosis and tuberculosis, with greater reductions at higher mean exposures. Despite potential selection and measurement bias, prevalence of silicosis and tuberculosis were high in the studies identified in this review. Our modelling demonstrated the greatest respiratory health benefits of reducing RCS are in those with highest exposures. ASM face a high occupational respiratory disease burden which can be reduced by low-cost and effective reductions in RCS.

Grants and funding

PH is supported by an MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship (MR/W024861/1). SM is supported by the EDCTP2 program, European Union (grant number TMA 2016SF-1463-REMODELTZ). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.