Call to Target Village Sex Workers

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Minister of Works, Transport and Communication Joel Kaapanda has appealed to the Namibia Business Coalition on AIDS (Nabcoa) to extend its existing HIV/AIDS campaign activities to all segments in the transport sector. According to Kaapanda, although the focal area of campaigns is the transport sector where prostitution is rife and associated with long distance transport, the campaigns should also extend to rural areas as young sex workers come from villages where they later return. The minister was speaking at a breakfast meeting yesterday attended by transport operators from government, parastatals, businesses, and other interested stakeholders He said, “It is important for us in this coalition to devise our program properly and accordingly allocate ourselves sectors covering transport and other sectors as well.” The minister similarly called for concerted efforts, as success in combating this disease heavily depends on coordinated planning strategies coupled with adequate financial and human resources. Given the high unemployment rate in the country, currently standing at 35%, the number of young people seeking employment is high and as such this group is also at risk of contracting the disease. The minister therefore requested the coalition to target young people joining the road construction industry. “The spread of the disease is common among this social group and reaching all the corners of our country with the current programs including prevention, home based care and counselling, which are commendable.” Kaapanda added the transport sector is one of the viable sectors in the country contributing to economic growth through employment creation. He elaborated that the sector is essential to economic growth as it facilitates the movement of goods and services inside the country and beyond. “Transport plays a catalytic role in many sectors in stimulating business activities through marketing and creation of market centres,” he added. Programme Manager of GTZ-Integrated HIV/AIDS Project Kathrin Lauckner reported that the transport sector has concentrated largely on the impact of mobility on the spread of the disease. Though he could not provide national statistics on the impact of HIV/AIDS in the transport sector, Lauckner revealed that according to the ILO research findings on common risks in the region, transport workers frequently engage in relations with commercial sex workers. Looking at Namibia, the country has major transit routes to neighbouring countries such as Zambia, Botswana, Angola and South Africa and that places the local truck operators at risk. Supported by research conducted by Nepru in 2003, HIV/AIDS is increasingly perceived as a threat to transport sector operations. IPPR in its study had similar revelations – truckers show high risk behaviour and inconsistent condom use. “All in all little is known about Namibia. Focus has been on transport workers/truckers. Construction of roads, railways, airports and their impact on other transport workers and management staff have not been researched as such, and the impact on communities is not clear,” she stated. She recommends that the disease be addressed in this sector “to keep the wheels spinning” and contain the risks associated with high mobility. This should be a shared responsibility between government and the private sector, she concluded.