High-risk Fishing and Trucking

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A study on HIV says infections picked up elsewhere in the world may be brought to Walvis Bay and through the coastal town to other towns and neighbouring countries because of fishermen, truck drivers and commercial sex workers who are tied into a triangle of high risk behaviour. The study, “Ships, Trucks and Clubs: The Dynamics of HIV Risk Behaviour in Walvis Bay”, is a summary of findings of a much larger study done for the International Organisation for Migration, which looked at the groups that are most at risk, namely fishermen, truck drivers and sex workers. The study published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) last month says due to the mobility of truck drivers and foreign fishermen, Walvis Bay is an important node in an international web of risky behaviour. The web consists of high-risk areas and countries namely Walvis Bay, Katima Mulilo and Zambia and Botswana and also low-prevalence areas outside Africa like Spain, Russia and China. The lucrative fishing industry means that many foreign fishermen from Russia, Spain and China, working on international fishing vessels, arrive on a regular basis and frequent Walvis Bay. “Under these conditions, the implications and consequences of risky behaviour are truly international, and the effects hereof would be felt thousands of miles away”, it says, adding that through their contact with local sex workers, foreign fishermen and truck drivers put their regular partners and many others at risk of infection thereby providing new impetus to the pandemic. It adds that given that the truck drivers and fishermen sometimes share the same sexual partners at the town, infections picked up along any of the transport routes may be carried all the way around the globe to cause new infections and often with new strands of the virus. Due to the fact that fishermen and truck drivers have significant impact on the entertainment industry as they influence important decisions about locations and services, the risky behaviour among any of the three groups is closely connected to the availability and consumption of alcohol. For instance, it is common to find services such as short-term rooms, which present incentives for commercial sex work, while shebeens erected along the road are frequented by truck drivers, yet this connection has been largely ignored and deserves much more attention from those who run risk reducing programmes. Due to language and communications problems, foreign fishermen do not receive any HIV education in Namibia and in their countries of origin, which have low prevalence rates and little attention is given to HIV education. “Both the language and accessibility problems have serious economic implications for local educators. They cannot hire additional staff with the required language proficiencies and hence have no means to target foreign fishermen”, says the study done by Debie Lebeau and Christian Keulder, the Managing Director of Media Tenor. The foreign fishermen frequent nightclubs and discos close to the harbour and meet high-end sex workers. While some European fishermen, mainly Spanish ones, engage in longer relationships with local sex workers, Chinese prefer once-off encounters with low-end sex workers and prefer unprotected sex. Local fishermen also prefer low-end sex workers and also with women who engage in transactional sex, meaning that foreign and local fishermen could be engaging in sex with the same sex workers.