Background: Gold mineworkers in South Africa are exposed to high levels of silica dust as a result of which they are at risk of developing silicosis, which is a compensable disease. The incidence of tuberculosis is also high.
Methods: To determine the prevalence of occupational lung disease and the previous compensation history in former migrant mineworkers, a study was undertaken in a random sample of men living in Libode, a rural district of Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Two hundred thirty-eight ex-mineworkers were examined according to a protocol that included chest radiography and spirometry. Chest radiographs were read into the International Labour Organisation (ILO) classification for pneumoconioses by two readers.
Results: The mean age was 52.8 years, and the mean length of service was 12.15 years. The prevalence of pneumoconiosis (> or = ILO 1/0) was 22% and 36% (variation by reader). For both readers, a significant association between length of service and pneumoconiosis and between pneumoconiosis and reduction in FVC and FEV was found. Twenty-four percent of study subjects were eligible for compensation.
Conclusion: There is a high prevalence of previously undiagnosed, uncompensated pneumoconiosis in the study group. As a result of the failure to diagnose and compensate occupational lung disease, the social and economic burden of such disease is being borne by individuals, households, and the migrant labor-sending communities as a whole.