Malawi's truckers cross the HIV/AIDS awareness border

A new centre set up by WFP and TNT at a busy border crossing between Malawi and Mozambique is providing information and medical advice to the truckers in transit, a high-risk mobile community. WFP spokesperson Stephanie Savariaud reports.

A new centre set up by WFP and TNT at a busy border crossing between Malawi and Mozambique is providing information and medical advice to the truckers in transit, a high-risk mobile community. WFP spokesperson Stephanie Savariaud reports.

“I want to stay healthy - I use condoms. I have seen too many friends die or get sick,” says Sande, a big Zimbabwean truck driver in a colourful shirt.

He is talking about HIV/AIDS and the toll it has taken on his colleagues.

“You are far from your wife for a few months. There are temptations on the road, hard to avoid,” he adds, smiling.

Condoms and information

Copyright: 2005 WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

Like dozens of his colleagues, Sande has been to the new Wellness Centre at the border post of Mwanza in Malawi to get condoms and more information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

From two containers in the truckers’ car park, Dr. Cleofas Magwira and counsellor Madison Mulinga are available to drivers waiting for a few hours or even days for their documents to be cleared by customs before crossing into Mozambique.

Graphic images

You are far from your wife for a few months. There are temptations on the road, hard to avoid

Sande, Zimbabwean truck driver

When they enter the Wellness Centre, most are merely curious; until Madison shows them a video and flip chart containing graphic images of STD symptoms.

“After they have seen the pictures, they sometimes start telling me, ‘Well, I think I might have something like that,’ and they go next door to see the doctor,” says Madison.

He tends to fight a lot of myths about STDs. “They often ask if condoms transmit HIV/AIDS, or if they are 100 percent secure,” he says.

Madison also shows truckers how to use a condom properly.

Collaboration

The Wellness Centre was set up jointly by WFP and TNT, the international shipping and logistics company. Dozens of other organisations have also collaborated on the project.

“Our aim will be reached when the transport sector and the ministry of health are managing the centre,” says Dom Scalpelli, WFP’s country director in Malawi.

“In the end it should be in the hands of Malawians.”

Urgent need

This really came on time. Drivers are dying, they get sick on the road. We are really thankful for this initiative

Shadrach Matsimbi, head of the Road Transporters Association of Malawi

When WFP and TNT started talking about opening such a centre in Malawi, the transport sector urged them to do it immediately.

“We had been trying to do something for the past five years, without success,” says Shadrach Matsimbi, the head of the Road Transporters Association of Malawi.

“This really came on time. Drivers are dying, they get sick on the road. We are really thankful for this initiative.”

HIV/AIDS hotspot

WFP and TNT hope the centre will become part of the truckers’ customs clearance routine at Mwanza, selected because it’s an HIV/AIDS hotspot with a prevalence rate of 20 percent - above the national average - and an average male life expectancy of just 44 years.

The busiest border post in Malawi, it handles more than 70 percent of the road freight of this landlocked country.

“A transport company here has lost 83 drivers out of 300 in the past year,” says Dorothy Hector, the head of logistics for WFP in Malawi.

Mobile community

Copyright: 2005 WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

WFP hires private transport companies to carry food aid across southern Africa, with an increased workload during times of crisis, such as this year. Most drivers pass through Mwanza several times a month.

Until the Wellness Centre opened, Malawi’s truck drivers weren’t targeted by HIV/AIDS prevention strategies; as a mobile community they have not been easy to reach.

Sex workers and border post employees also come to the Wellness Centre for information and treatment.

"Less intimidating"

It’s less intimidating than a hospital, nobody knows me personally, and it’s not that easy to find a chemist on the road or a doctor when you need to

Duncan, Malawian truck driver

In the next few weeks, WFP plans to open another centre next to its warehouse in Blantyre, the capital of Malawi, with a further facility mooted for the port city of Beira in Mozambique.

It’s too soon to know how efficiently the message about HIV/AIDS is being delivered, but some drivers have already visited a similar centre in South Africa.

“I often go there because it’s less intimidating than a hospital, nobody knows me personally, and it’s not that easy to find a chemist on the road or a doctor when you need to,” says Duncan, a driver from Malawi.