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Published: 2009-05-12

Migration patterns impact on public health in South Africa

NEWS South Africans who spend long periods working away from home have a higher risk of contracting the HIV/AIDS virus compared to people who do not migrate. This is demonstrated in a new doctoral dissertation by Mark Collinson, which he will be publicly defending at Umeå University on 15 May.

Nevertheless, temporary migration continues to be important in South Africa because it functions as a mainstay for income and survival in rural communities.

Migration from households in rural South Africa is high. The economic base of rural South Africa is surprisingly low due to high inequity at the national level. A democratic system has now been in place for 15 years and there are no longer restrictions on mobility. However, there are still high levels of poverty in rural areas and rising mortality rates. Migration patterns were expected to change after the abolition of apartheid, but a reduction in temporary migration has not happened, it has rather increased and now involves more female migrants.

Migration patterns vary between different age and gender groups within the population. Temporary migration has the greatest impact on socio-economic status and health, but permanent migration is also important. For the poorest households the key factors that improve socio-economic status are government grants and female temporary migration, while for the less poor households it is male temporary migration and local employment.

Migration has been associated with increased risks for HIV infection. However, migrants that return more frequently may be less likely to be exposed to outside partners and therefore less likely to be implicated in the HIV epidemic. There are links between migration and mortality, including higher risks of dying among returning migrants compared to permanent residents. A mother’s migration may influence child survival, after other factors are considered.

Mark Collinson has used a "health and socio-demographic surveillance system” (HDSS) in his study, a large open cohort in which migration dynamics are documented as they unfold. Migration patterns were monitored in Agincourt, a sub-district in rural Mpumalanga, South Africa.

On Friday 15 May, Mark Collinson, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine, Umeå University, will publicly defend his dissertation entitled “Striving against Adversity: the Dynamics of Migration, Health and Poverty in Rural South Africa”. The defence will take place at 9:00 am in the Betula lecture theatre, Norrlands University Hospital. The faculty opponent will be Dr. Kim Streatfield, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Dhaka Bangladesh.

Read all or parts of the dissertation at:

For more information contact Mark Collinson at:
E-mail: mark@agincourt.co.za
Phone: +46-76-787 30 07 (cell phone of Peter Byass, Mark Collinsons tutor)