(HN, November 23, 2010) - Farm workers in South Africa have the highest HIV prevalence of any working group in southern Africa, a new study by International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found.
At a press briefing today in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS, Jemini Pandya of IOM said the study found that farm workers in South Africa's Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces have the highest HIV prevalence among any working population in the region. The survey found that an average of 39.5 per cent of farm workers tested were HIV positive - more than twice the UNAIDS estimated national prevalence for South Africa of 18.1 per cent.
HIV prevalence is significantly higher among female employees - with almost half of the women (46.7 per cent) testing positive compared to just under a third (30.9 per cent) of the male workforce.
South Africa has the highest case-load of HIV positive people in the world.
"This study has reported an extraordinarily high prevalence of HIV among farm workers on commercial farms. I am not aware of any published literature in Southern Africa that has reported a higher prevalence than this," says Doctor Mark Colvin from Maromi Health Research, who led the survey.
The Malelane site recorded the highest prevalence at district level, with nearly half the agricultural workforce (49.1 per cent) testing HIV positive. This figure was much higher than the government's data on the district which puts the prevalence at 34.9 per cent. Malelane shares borders with Mozambique and Swaziland, thus the farm worker population in the area is roughly 60 per cent South African, 24 per cent Mozambican and 14 per cent Swazi.
The Musina site that borders Zimbabwe has registered an HIV prevalence of 28.1 per cent, nearly twice as high as the surrounding Vhembe district's HIV prevalence of 14.7 per cent. This site comprises mostly cross border migrants, with roughly 60 per cent being Zimbabwean nationals, Pandya said.
"While new HIV infections among adults and young people have dropped nationally, it is very worrying that the epidemic remains shockingly high in the commercial agricultural sector. Even more disturbing is the fact that no existing research can explain what is making the farm workers more vulnerable to HIV infection. More research is clearly needed," says Dr. Erick Ventura, IOM's Regional Coordinator for Migration Health in Southern Africa.