Catherine Murombedzi Health Correspondent
THE driving seat means being in control and responsible for the safety of those you drive. Truck drivers are an integral part of economies and they drive all movables on the road network. By the nature of their jobs they are away from their families and loved ones for long, even being away for a month.
Truckers therefore become a key population in health aspects.
Zimbabwe is a land-locked country and most of the haulage trucks in the region use the passageway to their destinations.
It therefore becomes a corridor to major truckers and taking a view, observers fail to see the need to take truckers as part of the most risk population.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, new HIV cases were more prevalent in long distance truck drivers, sex workers, prisoners and adolescents.
Dr Owen Mugurungi, the director in the STIs, Aids and TB unit in the ministry said in order to end HIV and Aids, none must be left behind.
He said statistics showed that sex workers and truckers had a higher prevalence rate.
“A baseline survey taken in the Southern African region revealed that the HIV prevalence in three border sites was 53 percent in sex workers and 26 percent in truckers. The general populace HIV prevalence stands at 15 to 20 percent in the region,” said Dr Mugurungi.
The situation gave birth to the SADC cross border initiative. The SADC representative Dr Ityai Muvandi said the idea was to foster economic growth by providing outreach health clinics to ensure healthy outcomes.
“A healthy SADC region culminates in economic growth. This initiative has shown that health outcomes of the SADC citizens will be beneficial to all,” said Dr Muvandi.
This culminated in a regional intervention supported by the Global Fund as they seek to leave no one behind. The SADC region has 32 border sites.
Speaking at the handover ceremony of four cross-border clinics in Victoria Falls by the SADC secretariat late last year, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Gerald Gwinji said it was imperative that truckers are recognised and efforts made to ease the way they carry out their work. Truckers hardly find time to visit the conventional health centres so it was important that the clinics be brought to their work places.
The cross-border clinics were mooted by Sadc in partnership with North Star Alliance.
Dr Gwinji said a voluntary HIV testing campaign saw 2943 long distance truckers being tested. Also tested were 2354 commercial sex workers.
4 923 had various sexually transmitted infections.
“The nature of their jobs and lifestyles of communities in border areas poses a challenge regarding early detection and diagnosis, retention in care and management of communicable diseases,” said Dr Gwinji.
Two truck drivers parked at a truckers’ inn for a nap welcomed the development.
“We welcome the idea of bringing clinics to our offices. We love the one-stop shop initiative. We get tested, receive treatment and get supplies for our journey which takes weeks and at times even months away from home,” said one of the two drivers.
“We therefore are prevented from getting infections and by so doing ensure that our loved ones at home remain infection-free,” said the other.
The member states in the cross-border initiate are Zambia, Tanzania, Swaziland, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.