THERE are groups of people who are at high risk of acquiring diseases. People who are frequently away from home and spouses are in this group.
Working far away from a spouse or spending long periods away from a spouse makes one vulnerable to “finding” a replacement partner for a one- night stand or even “second wife”. People most at risk are known as key populations in the HIV response. Truck drivers and sex workers are thus classified in this category.
Truck drivers and sex workers by the nature of their jobs are the major drivers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the SADC region. Border towns in SADC are a hive of activity and mobile clinics have been introduced to cater for the public and travelling passengers. This is a welcome programme as travellers rarely get time to visit health centres.
For example in Zimbabwe, the border town of Beitbridge (South Africa and Zimbabwe) has had mobile clinics for years now and this has helped in a great way.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Gerald Gwinji, said sexually transmitted infections were on the rise among truck drivers. Dr Gwinji was speaking in Victoria Falls at the handover of four cross-border clinics by the SADC Secretariat.
He said of the 10 000 truck drivers and sex workers tested in the region, 4 923 had STIs. “Of these, 2 934 were long-distance truck drivers and 2 354 were commercial sex workers,” said Dr Gwinji. “In line with Government policy to test and treat for HIV and Aids a total of 207 people from Beitbridge and Chirundu South have since been put on anti-HIV treatment,” said Dr Gwinji.More new cases of HIV were noted in the border towns which are hotspots taken under mapping.
Adolescents and prisons are also key populations as they have a marked increase of new HIV infections. Dr Gwinji said the border clinics were mooted by SADC in partnership with North Star Alliance. “The nature of their jobs and lifestyles (sex workers, truck drivers) poses a challenge . . . and these clinics are welcome,” he said.
“This sad situation gave birth to the SADC cross-border initiative,” he added.Participating SADC countries in the initiative are Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique Swaziland, Lesotho, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
HIV prevalence in border areas stood at 53 percent as compared to the regional average which is lower. In Zimbabwe the HIV prevalence rate stands at 14,8 percent. Southern Africa is heavily burdened with HIV. One truck driver who requested anonymity in Beitbridge during the World Aids Commemorations in 2012, lamented the long periods that he was away from home.
“I am mostly at work and during my first days of marriage my wife used to come with me on these long sojourns on the road. It is, however, no longer possible now that we have children and she must be at home taking care of them. I am starved sexually and end up getting a part-time girl to quench my sexual needs,” he said.
The driver said due to frustration he now has a long-term girlfriend in one of the border towns. “I now have a long-term girlfriend in one of the towns. I even have a baby aged two with her. This is all out to meet my desires, otherwise I love my wife very much, but I can’t handle the pressure due to the long time I spent away from home,” he said.
Sex workers who gave snippets into their lives said they did not have much of a choice in demanding condom use. To die or not to die is the question. “By the nature of my job, I know I must use protection, but beggars can’t be choosers, so if a client demands intimacy with no protection I hike my fees and take the offer.
“Otherwise, I would kill my children with hunger. I know the dangers so do not try to educate me on that. Kusiri kufa ndekupi,” she said.
The setting up of the border town clinics is a relief as this will go a long way in alleviating the challenges faced by the long-distance truck drivers and sex workers.
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