IOM Farm Worker Study Reveals Highest HIV Prevalence ever Reported among a Working Population

A recent study by the IOM has found a high HIV infection rate among farm workers in South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

For Immediate Release

Friday, November 26, 2010

A recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found a high HIV infection rate among farm workers in South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

Conducted over three months (March to May 2010) on 23 commercial farms in the Malelane, Musina and Tzaneen areas, this Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey (IBBSS) involved 2810 farm workers. The survey found that 39.5 percent of farm workers who anonymously gave blood specimens for testing are HIV positive. This is twice the national prevalence of 18.1 percent* in South Africa.

According to Dr. Mark Colvin who led the research, this is the highest HIV prevalence ever reported amongst a working population in southern Africa. HIV prevalence was significantly higher among female employees with almost half of the women (46.7%) testing positive compared to just under a third (30.9%) of the male workforce.

The Malelane site recorded the highest prevalence at district level, with nearly half the workforce (49.1%) testing HIV positive. This figure is much higher than the district prevalence of 34.9 percent**. Malelane shares borders with Mozambique and Swaziland, thus the farm worker population in the area is roughly 60 percent South African, 24 percent Mozambican and 14 percent Swazi.

The Musina site that borders Zimbabwe registered an HIV prevalence of 28.1 percent, nearly twice as high as the surrounding Vhembe district’s HIV prevalence of 14.7 percent**. This site comprises of mostly cross border migrants, with roughly 60 percent being Zimbabwean nationals and 38 percent South African.


Tzaneen recorded the lowest prevalence of 26.3 percent, which is slightly higher than that of the general population in the district (25.2%).** The Tzaneen site employs mostly internal migrants so, 96 percent of the workforce is South African and the rest is Mozambican.

“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. There is a clear need to intensify HIV prevention efforts in spaces of vulnerability such as farms,” says Dr. Erick Ventura, IOM’s Regional Coordinator for Migration Health.

The study could not pin-point a single factor causing this high rate of HIV infection on these farms and points to a collective multitude of factors such as multiple and concurrent partnerships, transactional sex, irregular condom use, presence of STIs and/or TB, high levels of sexual violence, amongst other contributors.,

The report makes several recommendations, amongst them: increasing farm worker access to healthcare, identifying spaces of vulnerability in the region and implementing positive prevention programmes that go beyond awareness-raising, addressing gender norms that increase risky behaviour and vulnerability of farm workers, as well as tackling the growing need for workplace health policies to cater for both permanent and seasonal farm workers.
USAID Southern Africa’s Director, Jeff Borns says, “IOM’s study reveals important information about this highly vulnerable migrant population group.”

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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Norway (MFA).

*UNAIDS Epidemiological Fact Sheet on HIV and AIDS 2008 Adults aged 15 to 49 prevalence

** Data from the National Department of Health

For further information, please contact Nosipho Theyise, Tel: +2712 342 2789, Email:


Share This Page