Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What’s AIDS have to do With the Price of Gold?

Something that’s always fascinated me is the impact of health on economy. I’ve read enough on this issue to believe that good health is a civic responsibility. Think of the billions spent in the United States on preventable health problems (obesity and smoking-related ones). Imagine what we could do with the savings. I’d pour the money into space exploration. A more righteous person would house all the homeless. George Bush could hire a mercenary army to occupy the rest of the Middle East. Well, maybe we wouldn’t save that much money, but you get the point. Good health is good for a nation’s wallet.

Across the Atlantic, countries in Africa and Asia are starting to notice the impact of AIDS on their mining industries. This according to
a report by Reuters.

In South Africa, compared to the general population, the rate of HIV infection is double among miners. One mining group, Anglo, reports a third of its workers (about 6,000 people) are infected with HIV.

Mining firm Gold Fields estimates HIV has increased the price of gold $5 per ounce.

Five bucks doesn’t sound like much when you consider gold sells for $640 an ounce. But HIV doesn’t seem to be slowing down. So unless something changes, we can expect that number to grow.

According to UN figures, HIV infection numbers are up 20-fold in Eastern Europe and Central Asia over the last decade. Numbers have doubled in Russia over the past two years. During that same period, infections are up 23 percent to 650,000 in China. Taken as a whole, Asia is responsible for 44 percent of all gold production and 33 percent of all copper.

While nobody has put a price of the total impact of HIV on the mining industry, big companies aren’t waiting to find out. According to Reuters, “In May this year health experts from seven mining giants met for the first time in London, forming a group to come up with an improved strategy on how to halt the spread of AIDS.”

Early steps to slow the disease include prizes for taking tests, distributing condoms and dispatching mobile treatment units.
For mining companies, an ounce of prevention equals about four ounces of cure. According to a statement from mining company BHP Billiton, “for every dollar it invests in HIV training, education and medical programs the return is four-fold in terms of benefits such as re-training, absenteeism and productivity,” reports Reuters.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.