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Rising number of HIV-positive truckers alarms authorities
Saturday 7 May 2005
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SWAZILAND: Rising number of HIV-positive truckers alarms authorities

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Authorties are concerned over HIV infection amongst truckers

MBABANE, 31 May (PLUSNEWS) - Swazi authorities and health workers have expressed concern over the rising rate of HIV infection among the country's truck drivers.

The landlocked southern African country is heavily dependent on road transport and there are fears that the spread of the virus could have a serious impact on the economy.

According to official statistics an estimated 38.6 percent of Swazis are living with the virus, and the country's health ministry has included truckers among the high-risk groups that are partly responsible for Swaziland's soaring HIV prevalence rate.

Two years ago prostitutes operating at border posts were targeted by an aggressive HIV/AIDS awareness campaign aimed at encouraging them to engage in safer sex practices, thereby also reducing the rates of infection among truckers.

But there have been no new initiatives to raise awareness among sex workers or the trucking community since then.

"We try to raise awareness about AIDS as a preventable disease amongst our staff, but every company in the manufacturing industry is feeling the effects of AIDS," Willie Stuart, the owner of Speedy Overboarder, a freight forwarding service, told PlusNews. Stuart's company services Botswana and several South African cities from its Swaziland base.

A key obstacle to providing support to truckers who have tested HIV positive was their fear of losing their employment if they disclosed their status in order to obtain treatment.

"If our drivers start calling in sick a lot, and they show up thin and listless, we can guess what is ailing them," said the director of a road freight firm. "Before, there was nothing we could do for them, but now we can speak with a driver and urge him to take a blood test, because with that test he would qualify to get ARVs [antiretrovirals]."

Antiretroviral drug therapy is available in an expanding rollout campaign coordinated by the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).

NERCHA director and former finance minister Derek von Wissell told PlusNews: "I get requests from businesses all the time for information on how to enrol workers in ARV plans. Employers are taking a more hands-on approach to their workers with AIDS."

PlusNews also spoke to some truck drivers. "I don't think truckers are any more likely to get AIDS than anyone else - everybody can get AIDS. Anyway, I carry a condom," said one, who gave his name only as Amos.

"I sleep in my cab, and I won't tell you if I have sex in here, but I do have companions. Because of the truck engine it is warm here on a winter night," explained another driver.

The truckers said they were aware of how HIV was transmitted, how safe sexual practices could prevent infection, and most claimed that they carried condoms.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Drought, hunger and AIDS, but still coping,  5/May/05
Business coalition launches HIV/AIDS mitigation plan,  27/Apr/05
Child rights advocates highllight plight of under-fives,  20/Apr/05
Some optimism despite gloomy new HIV figures,  8/Apr/05
Health workers score with TB campaign,  7/Apr/05
AIDS Media Center
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VIH Internet
Sida Info Services

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