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ETHIOPIA: Transport sector launches HIV policy

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/PlusNews
Transport workers spend long periods away from their families, and risky sex with commercial sex workers is common
ADDIS ABABA, 17 January 2011 (PlusNews) - The Ethiopian government has unveiled an HIV policy for its transport sector, which has grown significantly in recent years alongside the rapidly expanding road network.

"Various national studies have shown that those working across the transport sector - especially drivers and their assistants - are vulnerable to HIV infection as they spend considerable time away from their families," said Ethiopia's transport authority director Kassahun Hailemariam.

The country's Federal Transport Authority (FTA) and commercial transporters jointly issued the policy in December. It sets up a national taskforce to raise funds from state and non-state actors to finance projects, including condom distribution, and helping transport staff and family members living with the virus.

The government has earmarked 2 percent of the FTA's annual budget to work towards an HIV-free transport sector. Although exact figures for the number of transport workers - from drivers to drivers' assistants and loaders - are hard to come by, an FTA official said the figure was "in the tens of thousands".

High risk

Transport workers often have sex with local sex workers when on the road for days at a time. According to the latest UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS country progress report on Ethiopia, a 2009 study found that truckers and intercity bus drivers formed 22 percent of the client base of sex workers.

''If I am going to get HIV/AIDS, I am sure I have it by now as I have never used condoms so far''
A 2009 government survey from mobile counselling and testing clinics in 40 towns located on the major transportation corridors that link Addis Ababa to Ethiopia's borders found that 25.3 percent of the sex workers who received the service were HIV-positive.

The country's national HIV prevention programme has increased levels of knowledge about how HIV is spread and how to prevent infection, but some transport workers are still taking risks.

"If I am going to get HIV/AIDS, I am sure I have it by now as I have never used condoms so far," said Hailu Wondwossen, a driver's assistant for a minibus that travels between Addis and Hawassa, five hours south of the capital. "If I have AIDS already, and there is a good chance, what is the use?"

The new policy aims to get people like Hailu to test for HIV; if they test negative they can begin to behave more responsibly, and if positive, they can receive the necessary medical and psychosocial support they need.

"The transport sector is of huge importance to the trade and industry growths across the country and our economic performance hugely relies on their performance, which has been hindered by HIV/AIDS-related challenges," said Transport Minister Diriba Kuma.

kt/kr/mw

Theme(s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Economy, Education, Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews, Urban Risk,

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

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