HIV Prevalence in South Africa Highest among Farm Workers, New IOM Report Says


An IOM study has found that farm workers in South Africa's Limpopo
and Mpumalanga provinces have the highest HIV prevalence among any
working population in Southern Africa.

Conducted over three months (March to May 2010) on 23 commercial
farms in the Malelane, Musina and Tzaneen areas, the Integrated
Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey (IBBSS) involved
2810 farm workers who anonymously gave blood specimens for HIV

The survey found that an average of 39.5 per cent of farm
workers who tested were HIV positive. This is more than twice the
UNAIDS estimated national prevalence for South Africa of 18.1 per

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"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.

HIV prevalence was 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

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 is 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 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 of mostly cross border migrants, with roughly 60 per
cent being Zimbabwean nationals and 38 per cent South African.

Tzaneen recorded the lowest prevalence of 26.3 per cent,
although it is slightly higher than that of the general population
in the district (25.2 per cent). Its labour force was made up of
mainly internal South African migrants.

The study could not pin-point a single factor causing this high
rate of HIV infection on these farms but points instead to a
combination of factors such as multiple and concurrent
partnerships, transactional sex, irregular condom use, presence of
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and/or TB and high levels of
sexual violence.

"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.

The report makes several recommendations including increasing
farm worker access to healthcare; implementing prevention
programmes that don't just raise awareness but also reduce
transmission of the disease by HIV positive people; addressing
gender norms which increase risky behaviour and vulnerability to
HIV such as the belief that a man has to have multiple partners, as
well as including both permanent and seasonal farm workers in
workplace health and safety policies.

This study was conducted with support from the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID), the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Swedish
International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in partnership
with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The complete report can be accessed on the link below: "paragraph-link-no-underline" href=
target="_blank" title=

For more information contact:

Nosipho Theyise

IOM Pretoria

Tel: +2712 342 2789

E-mail: "">

A worker tends to vegetables at a farm in Hoedspruit. An IOM study has found that farm workers in South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces have the highest HIV prevalence among any working population in Southern Africa. © IOM 2010 - MZA0058