WFP and partner, TNT, have joined the HIV/AIDS frontline in Malawi by opening a clinic for truckers to identify and treat sexually transmitted infections. Robin Landis, HIV/AIDS Programme Adviser at WFP, looks at how the Muyende Bwino Wellness Centre helps this hard to reach group.
Malawian truckers who travel the length and breadth of the country live a hard and lonely life and many seek solace in sex workers or strangers – opening themselves and others to the risk of infection.
WFP depends heavily on long-distance truckers to haul food aid across the country and region.
HIV prevention lesson
They work in difficult conditions, delivering their cargo regardless of weather and road conditions, and often regardless of their health.
As one Malawian trucker says: “Most of the truck drivers do sleep around, they change women just like that from one place to another. We are seeing people suffering and dying of all these diseases which are not being treated.”
Hard to pin down
The nature of their job means they aren’t reached through traditional health systems.
Clinic hours don’t match their erratic schedules, it’s difficult to find parking outside treatment centres for their massive vehicles and there is also the risk that their cargo might be stolen if they leave their trucks.
As a result, the truckers don’t receive testing or treatment for HIV and they become moving targets, standing at the crossroads between spreading the disease and preventing new infections.
The establishment of Wellness Centres in Malawi is a milestone in the delivery of health services.
Dr. W. Tamaona, Mwanza district health officer
In February 2005, WFP and partner, TNT, the Dutch global delivery company put their heads together to see how they could tackle the burgeoning AIDS crisis in southern Africa.
WFP has up to 5000 trucks on the road in 82 countries on any given day.
Malawi perfect setting
Together with TNT, it realised that practices in the trucking industry needed to change to give drivers a chance to save their health.
Landlocked Malawi, with its high HIV-rate and increased road traffic due to a hunger crisis, provided the setting for their solution and the Muyende Bwino Pit Stop in Mwanza was born.
Inspired by the South African network of roadside clinics which is part of the Trucking Against Aids project, the centre offers a treatment room, multimedia education on preventing HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), a clinician, condoms and counselling, among other services.
The Malawi Government and the private sector contributed money, drugs, condoms and the site for the centre, which has both convenient hours and a good location for the truckers - at a border post between Malawi and Mozambique.
In the first year, more that 1,200 STIs were treated and over ten thousand people received prevention information.
Dr. W. Tamaona, Mwanza district health officer says: “The establishment of Wellness Centres in Malawi is a milestone in the delivery of health services.”
WFP and TNT think the transport sector can play a decisive role in preventing HIV and AIDS among truckers and their partners.
Meanwhile, truckers get the green light to do their job without putting their lives and that of their partners at unnecessary risk.