Doris Zakaliya, a single mother of four, from Waiyatsa Village in Neno district has been a terrazzo stone miner for twelve years now.
Her entire village has, for decades, depended on terrazzo mining as the number one economic activity for sustaining their lives.
She narrates that she is able to make at least K15 000 in a month when the terrazzo business is good, which is then used to meet household needs; school fees for one of her children (now in secondary school) and rentals for the mine site where she gets the terrazzo stone.
She said since joining the mining business, she had been coughing at times but little did she know that it was emanating from the stone dust until her fears were confirmed when she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) in 2016.
One Friday morning while she was coughing heavily and was lying on her veranda, a health adviser under Paradiso TB Patient Trust, was coincidentally passing by her house and advised her to go for check up at a hospital.
By this time, she had taken her mining business to her compound, from where she was pounding the terrazzo stones into tiny pieces for sale.
The health adviser told her that the dust from the stones was harmful and could be the reason
for her coughing. She continued coughing but the regular visits and advice from the health adviser were enough to compel Doris to pay a visit to the doctor.
“When I went for check-up, I was found with TB and was advised to take to the hospital my entire family and my neighbours for similar tests and luckily, they were found to be negative,”
She was then put on TB drug treatment, which meant that she had to stop mining until she recovered. This was a devastating blow to her family since her business was the only source of income.
Nonetheless, she followed the advice to stop grinding the stones from her compound, to protect her family and that the dust should be disposed away from where people lived.
After recovering, Doris returned to the terrazzo mining trade but, this time, with caution. She now covers her nostrils and mouth with a piece of cloth to avoid inhaling dust from the stones and puts on fresh clothes every time she goes mining.
“We can’t stop this because we still need to survive and this is the only way we can earn a living, we just follow the advice from the health advisers on how we can safely do this and protect ourselves,” Zakariya said.
Her experience became an eye opener for many of the terrazzo miners in her village and beyond. Doris and many of the miners acknowledge that ignorance played a big part among them and that many of their friends had died from the same, without knowing that the terrazzo dust was the cause.
She added that many miners from her village went for check-up following her experience and six were diagnosed with TB. Some of them completed the drug treatment while others are still taking the drugs.
This was confirmed by the TB Coordinator at Neno District Hospital, Paul Gondwe, who said the number of people visiting the hospital for TB check-up has almost doubled over the past year.
He attributed the development to awareness campaigns implemented by the Paradiso TB Patient Trust on the same.
“The guidelines stipulate that out of every 100,000 people, 334 may qualify for TB and for Neno, we are at 42 percent, the cases are increasing especially now that many people are coming for screening, we are able to identify people that were hiding and spreading the disease among the communities.
“The problem has been lack of awareness, especially among the terrazzo miners that is why we have seen the numbers increasing of late following the TB in Mines project that Paradiso is implementing…for instance in Matope area, previously, they could not record any case but now five to eight cases are reported every quarter,” Gondwe said.
Programs Manager at Paradiso TB patient Trust, Fred Kaliati, said he was impressed with the progress made under the project where a lot of miners now have the knowledge about TB and that their occupation makes them the risk population due to exposure to the silica dust.
“Since we started this project, the miners have been able to demand services because, mainly, our project was to create demand for the services, right now Matope Health Centre in Neno has reported twice the number of presumptive cases, which is an indication that the project has made a huge impact,” Kaliati said.
The project, which was being implemented in the districts of Neno and Phalombe, focused on community systems strengthening and was funded by the Global Fund.