Tracking the Trucking AIDS Figures

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High mobility of particularly transport workers significantly increases exposure to HIV/AIDS infection, New Era reports.

By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

Outside the late night cafeteria at the Windhoek Truck Port, a 24-hour service area for long-distance truckers, stands a big Take Control board declaring in bold lettering: “Say yes to condoms every time!!”

The cafeteria, however, does not sell condoms to its clientele, mostly truck drivers and commercial sex workers from all over the country.

“We don’t sell condoms because I think it goes against the grain of Christian principles to, on the one hand say that illicit sex is a sin and on the other hand encourage it by selling condoms,” said a worker from the cafeteria, preferring anonymity.

But he sees sex workers very aggressively combing the truck port for business.

“You always have women coming in here any time of the day or night. They come alone, in groups of two or three, but they are here,” he acknowledged.
“I have seen a girl as young as 16 years old travelling with a truck driver from Walvis Bay to Windhoek recently,” he said.

“This cannot go on; something has to be done.”

The cafeteria is a poor semblance of a recreational area for truckers. It has one pool table at the centre, a television set hanging from the wall blaring the latest sporting results, and some tables outside on the veranda where truckers can sit around to relax. Not much entertainment there, and perhaps also why so many truckers who pull in odd hours to sleep over and rest prefer the company of sex workers.

Asked why he regularly has sexual contact with commercial sex workers, a truck driver who acknowledged that he is married with three children simply said: “Because I am a man.”

Clinical psychologist, Dr Shaun Whittaker, said transport workers are prone to high-risk behaviour because their jobs uproot them from the emotional stability of a home and a family for protracted periods.

“One reason for the high HIV/Aids prevalence among transport workers as well as migrant workers in southern Africa, is because their work takes them away from those they love. Because of loneliness, they are likely to seek comfort elsewhere because they still do have sexual needs. But the risky behaviour is not so much triggered by sexual needs, but more by emotional needs. Everyone needs to feel accepted, loved and cared for; these are basic human needs. But by being on the road constantly, the possibility of maintaining stable relationships erodes,” said Whittaker.

Such risky sexual patterns particularly among workers in the transport sector are a global trend, and the Namibian authorities have expressed grave concern.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found that transport workers frequently engage with sex workers, that they have multiple relationships en route, either by road, air or sea.

The ‘hotspots’ – or the places where this kind of high-risk behaviour is most prevalent -it was found, was primarily wherever transport workers stop for longer periods of time. These places were identified as border posts, internal trading centers along roads, or where trains are stabled, or at airports and flight destinations away from home.

Namibia’s hotspots, one would then presume, are the main transit routes: the Trans-Kalahari Highway, Trans-Caprivi Highway, the Walvis Bay Harbour, and the highways to Angola and South Africa.

Following the main transit routes, Angola has a registered HIV/Aids prevalence rate of 3.9 percent, Zambia has 16.5 percent, Botswana has a high 37.3 percent, and South Africa a 21.5 percent prevalence rate.

In Namibia the HIV/Aids prevalence from 2006 figures is one in every five persons (19.9 percent). This data comes from sentinel reports, that is data obtained from pre-natal women, and hence not from a broad population sample.

The HIV/Aids prevalence is higher in places with high mobility such as trade corridors, and borders. The 2006 figures showed a HIV/Aids prevalence rate of 22.4 percent in Walvis Bay, 17.3 percent in Swakopmund, 27.1 percent in Oshakati, a startling 39.4 percent at Katima Mulilo, and 27 percent at Oshikango.

A South African study showed that among 320 truck drivers and 194 commercial sex workers, there was an average HIV prevalence of 54 percent of the drivers, and 56 percent of the prostitutes.

This study revealed that of those who were asked, 70 percent of the drivers had regular partners, and 65 percent of them were travelling to other countries in the region. Among these drivers, condom use was inconsistent, and 29 percent said they never used condoms.

According to Dr Kathrin Lauckner, the perception of personal risk to HIV infection was generally low.

Although a recent study could not pinpoint the actual population size of long-distance truckers, it found 28??????’??

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