For centuries, healers have believed in the power of diamonds to promote physical and mental wellbeing. But today, the natural diamond world does far more.
After a particularly tough year, we could all benefit from some positive energy and healing. The practice of crystal healing has become a “go-to” ritual for the rich and famous and it is not surprising that the invincible diamond is considered the mother of all healing stones. In every ancient culture, diamonds—the most sought-after jewels—are deemed to have healing properties. Ancient Egyptian art depicts diamonds as the centerpiece of the ankh, their symbol for life. Also associated with the seventh chakra, the connector to our divine and our spiritual nature, these beautiful stones are said to unite mind and body into one being, promoting incredible power, emotional growth and loving energy.
Carol Woolton, Contributing Jewelry Editor, British Vogue says, “Deep within each stone lies an inexplicable energetic primal magic. Long before diamonds became a glittering faceted symbol of beauty and sparkle, they were used as amulets with a powerful curative capacity, worn to guard against a range of evil influences and supernatural forces.”
While this isn’t a proven science, the feel-good effects of diamonds are undeniable. And today, diamonds do much more. They play a vital part in the long-term development of their host countries.
Diamonds in the Fight Against COVID-19
In the last year alone, as the pandemic swept the globe, the diamond world was in a strong position to act. Thanks to its past decade of investing in the healthcare of communities, building medical centers and working with health professionals, it was able to focus its attention and funds towards rapid COVID-19 relief efforts. Supporting communities currently living in lockdown and isolation is also currently a huge focus for the natural diamond world. Across the globe, mines including ALROSA, Lucara Diamond, Petra Diamonds and De Beers Group work with local partners to fund and distribute food, water and hygiene products to households staying home to save lives.
All Petra Diamond mines have thermal scanners and digital health questionnaires for employees to respond to before they start work. If there is cause for concern, they are escorted to a medical station to see a doctor and undertake a screening.
“COVID-19 in our area has been surprisingly well contained,” says Islam Chipango, Vice President of Human Resources and Administration at RZM Murowa, based in Zimbabwe. “Our mine is in the middle of a really rural community and this location presents us with many challenges. To rise to this, our company made sure that all frontline health workers in the area had screening, sanitizers and PPE equipment and we provided protective equipment and masks to neighboring community centers, while renovating an Isolation Center at Lundi Hospital in the Midlands Province. In total, we support five clinics, serving around 25,000 people.”
Diamonds Supporting Everyday Health
A health facility built by RZM Murowa, the Mutambi Clinic has transitioned into a referral center for other clinics. Its space is fully equipped, electrified with a back-up solar energy system and supplied with water by the mine, which assisted in the completion of a new maternity waiting room. “To augment our contribution to ensuring our communities remain healthy, we also provide drugs for the clinic,” says Chipango.
The remoteness of these communities cannot be overemphasized. Where RZM Murowa is based, the nearest hospital is more than an hour’s drive away, which is why the true value of diamonds to these communities can be seen when they work their magic, building hospitals and funding health programs that residents could never have dreamed of accessing before.
“In most rural communities you don’t get to see a doctor because you have to be able to travel quite a bit and spend a lot of money. We have enabled doctors to visit the community at no cost to the community but ourselves,” Chipango explains.
Dr. Andrew Nyahwa oversees all healthcare matters for the employees and the community around the RZM Murowa mine. He visits all five health clinics several times a month, training and upskilling the local health teams so they can look after day-to-day enquiries, and also personally treating patients who require his attention. “RZM Murowa is not only looking after employees, but communities; its investment has had a huge impact,” Dr. Nyahwa tells us. “Community nurses need a lot of assistance to uplift their medical understanding and RZM Murowa has made this possible.’’
Supporting communities currently living in lockdown and isolation is also a huge focus for the natural diamond world. Across the globe, mines including ALROSA, Lucara Diamond, Petra Diamonds and De Beers Group work with local partners to fund and distribute food, water and hygiene products to their households as they stay at home to save lives. De Beers Group has even procured PCR testing machines for Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, as well as creating laboratories to analyse the tests which is helping to speed up diagnoses and curb the spread of COVID-19.
And, as a lasting legacy, it is also not unheard of for diamonds to fund the building of hospitals in remote parts of the world, like Zhigansk, a small Yakut village located on the bank of the Lena River in Russia. Just over three thousand people live there, but without a developed infrastructure, its residents have for years traveled hundreds of kilometers to receive qualified medical care. Everything changed over the last few years when ALROSA invested $6 million towards building a new hospital in the village.
The Zhiganskaya central regional hospital grew its team of doctors and nurses, new departments were added and state-of-the-art equipment was installed. Now there are children’s departments, therapy rooms, a maternity center, gynecological specialists and various forms of surgical care.
The job creation at hospitals such as Zhiganskaya and within the healthcare industry at large is a direct result of diamond mining. Tsaone Sekanami, the senior medical officer for Jwaneng Mine Hospital in Botswana, which is 100% owned by diamond producer Debswana, says he owes his job to the world of diamonds. “I’ve always wanted to work with Debswana, I see the relationship they have with the government, with development. My hospital sees around 90,000 patients a year, the majority are Debswana employees and contractors, but forty per cent are local villagers.”
Jwaneng Hospital is fully funded by Debswana, at a cost of more than US $3.6 million a year, allowing it to serve a local population of around 30,000 people. An estimated 60% of people who use the hospital are not employees of Jwaneng Mine, or their families. “We cater for these people from the villages for free, whether they work for the diamond mine or not,” Sekanami explains.
Diamonds for Disease Prevention
Jacques Oosthuyzen is Group Occupational Health & Hygiene Lead for Petra Diamonds in South Africa. Since joining in 2011, he has devoted his expertise towards eliminating diseases that could endanger the lives of Petra employees and the communities around the mines. “It started with looking at conditions that have historically been prevalent through mining, but then it became so much more,” explains Oosthuyzen.
In South Africa, the biggest historic risk associated with diamond mining was the chance of contracting tuberculosis. “We noted that the cases of TB we were seeing were mainly in those employees who had other underlying health conditions and those who came from areas with high cases of TB.” explains Oosthuyzen.
Combined with what used to be a close proximity of mineworkers underground, this contributed to the spread of TB, but through new higher standards in clean and well-maintained working environments, together with regular health checks for employees, this disease has now been greatly reduced among full time employees of not only Petra Diamond, but De Beers Group too.
“We have had no certified occupational diseases for some time now,” says Oosthuyzen. “We work by reducing or eliminating the risks at source, making sure that everybody is fit to work, and they have a safe working environment.”
“Everyone has an annual medical fitness assessment. If you work in head office it is every two years, but for those directly involved in mining it is every year. We do all the standard checks for blood pressure, blood sugar and so forth. But also, we do lung function testing, chest x-rays, substance testing, hearing and vision tests—everything necessary.”
The real step-change however has been a decade of implementing these actions as a code of practice for healthcare and wellness reporting across the group. “For the past three to four years we’ve been focusing on chronic disease and lifestyle disease monitoring so we know who the people are with these conditions and we can ensure they get the right treatment. We’ve turned the whole system around by 360 degrees,” Oosthuyzen says.
Through working closely with local authorities, these health checks and wellness campaigns have been extended into the communities around Petra’s diamond mines. Petra Diamond’s Group General Health and Wellness Practitioner, Geoffrey Titi, explains that to engage communities about the mine-supported health benefits available to them, awareness campaigns are sponsored by the government. “We worked with state facilities to the local clinics ensuring that those diagnosed receive treatment.”
Throughout southern Africa, De Beers Group offers world-class healthcare for community members through the hospitals and clinics around its mining operations. The company has a strategic vision and goals that center around health, a key pillar within its broader ‘Building Forever’ strategy, which outlines their commitment to create a positive lasting impact that will endure well beyond the discovery of diamonds.
Through Building Forever, the company is making a commitment to partnering for thriving communities and in doing so, improving health, education and livelihoods wherever it works; establishing base lines and priority issues around each of its operations by working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and local partners.
By 2030, the plan is to achieve priority UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) health targets in all its partner communities. This includes a focus on reducing HIV and TB infection rates, as well as child and maternal mortality, gender-based violence and road accidents in southern Africa. Across the globe in Canada, De Beers Group is prioritising healthcare for specific vulnerable groups within its partner First Nations communities, which includes implementing programs to address youth life skills, mental health, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, obesity and gender-based violence.
Teaming Up for Good Reason
All of this can’t be achieved alone. In every case, partners, the government, civil society and NGOs with a shared purpose are behind the success of every health-based initiative funded or created by the diamond world. Dr. Tshepo Sedibe, Principle Health Leadat De Beers Group explains: “We always ask ourselves, what is lacking in communities? How do we prioritise making an impact? We identify our goals; we select partners, and we engage communities. We even make sure medication reaches people in remote, far-flung areas by partnering on logistics.”
When diamond mines were first created, health and safety was about hard hats and steel toe caps. Now, in the new world of diamonds, health means the wellbeing, safety and happiness of employees of the mines and the communities around them, as well as long-term partnerships that deliver a brighter future for everyone. “I think more people are open to working in the diamond world now, because we have created a positive working environment,” concludes Oosthuyzen. “It’s a good industry to enter and the diamond mines look after their people and the wider community—not only right now, but by investing in their health and wellbeing for years to come.”