UN Prioritizes Tuberculosis Prevention for High-Risk Occupations

"The UN General Assembly is taking an important step in highlighting the need for governments and global health funders to invest in primary prevention to reduce silica dust hazards in high-risk workplaces. This UN action recognizes that we can take action to prevent TB, and not just treat it," said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of OK International.

The United Nations General Assembly is calling for the establishment of prevention programs to reduce tuberculosis among miners and other workers exposed to silica dust, in a declaration that was released in advance of the first ever UN General Assembly High-level Meeting on TB on Sept. 26, 2018. Occupational Knowledge International spearheaded the effort at the UN to recognize the need for TB prevention in the workplace for the first time; the organization reported that estimates 300,000 new TB cases can be prevented each year with appropriate workplace interventions.

Miners and others working in dusty environments have a four times greater risk of acquiring active TB. OK International noted that reducing silica dust in the workplace through improved ventilation, water spray misting, and PPE is an effective strategy to reduce the incidence of TB in high burden countries and also help to prevent cases of silicosis, lung cancer, and other autoimmune diseases among workers.

"The UN General Assembly is taking an important step in highlighting the need for governments and global health funders to invest in primary prevention to reduce silica dust hazards in high-risk workplaces. This UN action recognizes that we can take action to prevent TB, and not just treat it," said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of OK International. "Treatment costs for a single case of the most drug-resistant TB can exceed $40,000 per patient in Africa and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the U.S."

The UN TB declaration asks countries to commit to "implementing primary prevention in high-risk occupations by reducing silica dust exposures in mining, construction and other dusty workplaces."

An editorial published Sept. 24 in conjunction with the UN meeting in the journal Lancet Global Health calls on governments to enact regulations to reduce silica dust exposures in mining, construction, and other high-risk occupations.

OK International is a San Francisco, Calif.-based NGO that works to build capacity in developing countries to identify, monitor, and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials in order to protect public health and the environment. The organization seeks to address inequities in environmental standards between developed and developing countries.

OSHA has recently updated its workplace silica standards, but many countries have no occupational exposure limit for silica dust, according to the organization.

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