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 Tuesday 30 October 2007
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MALAWI: Project aims to put the brakes on spread of HIV/AIDS

Photo: IRIN
Malawi, like other southern African nations, has a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate
LILONGWE, 29 November 2005 (PlusNews) - In an effort to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among truck drivers and sex workers, the World Food Programme (WFP) and TNT, a Netherlands based logistics company, have set up a counselling and treatment centre at Malawi's border with Mozambique.

The Wellness Centre, also supported by the Swedish International Development Agency and the Malawian Ministry of Health, provides counselling and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to long-distance truck drivers and sex workers at the Mwanza border crossing.

"The transport industry in Malawi has been hugely affected by the spread of HIV/AIDS, [which has impacted on] WFP as well. In order to deliver food to the most vulnerable areas, WFP contracts private transporters to carry food aid coming from Durban [in South Africa] and Beira ports through the [Mwanza] border post," WFP country representative Domenico Scalpelli told IRIN.

"The truck drivers we are helping today are not all necessarily working for WFP, but they might be in future - through food aid, our organisation is in touch with many logistical sectors, not only with a border posts like this one but also with employees of ports or warehouses," he pointed out.

Since January, some 600 WFP trucks have crossed the border on their way to and from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

"Long nights, young men far from home, and an abundance of poor young women makes this a perfect location for HIV to spread - and an ideal place to intervene to stop it. That is why Mwanza was the first place WFP and its partners chose to install the 'Muyende Bwino Pit Stop', the first Wellness Centre in Malawi," Scalpelli said.

WFP hoped the centre would benefit not only drivers, as the information they would get and "the treatment they will receive will also be of help to their families and the region".

The Mwanza border post is a hive of activity, handling 70 percent of all road freight into Malawi, where drivers often spend days waiting for their trucks to be inspected by the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and other officials. As a consequence, the border post has attracted a number of sex workers.

More than 4.7 million people in Malawi are no longer able to feed themselves as a result of drought and the government's dwindling ability to cope, while one in every seven adults in the country was HIV positive, WFP noted in a statement. The food agency is mounting a relief operation as farmers, workers and civil servants succumb to the disease.

"Truck drivers are by definition a mobile community and, as such, were not targeted in related HIV/AIDS education, counselling, testing and treatment. WFP and TNT hope to contribute, through this project, to the strengthening of national efforts in Malawi to prevent new infections among transport workers, to ensure that they have access to existing services and are not marginalised due to the nature of their work," said Scalpelli.

Benard Mtindimuri, a Zimbabwean truck driver, told IRIN, "Truck drivers are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because they are always away from their families and wives. Sometimes women ask for lifts, but in actual fact they are after the drivers so that they sleep with them and be paid some cash. Drivers who are weak have fallen prey to it and many have died. This centre will help us get some counselling, treatment and, more importantly, get some condoms to protect ourselves."

Maxwell Chivende, a 50-year-old truck driver who travels with his wife, said, "Drought in the region has had a lot of effects - it has worsened the HIV/AIDS amongst the communities; women who are in search of food are vulnerable. Drivers who deliver food from one place to another are at risk, so centres like these are important to us drivers, because when one is infected with sexually transmitted diseases he should be able to receive treatment from a nearby clinic."

He said most drivers were reluctant to visit a "clinic or hospital in their own countries and they would opt to visit a clinic like this one [at Mwanza], away from family members and spouses", but taking his wife along while driving his routes allowed him to protect himself from HIV infection.

A clinician at the centre, Cleofas Magwira, said about eight Malawian and foreign drivers visited the centre daily.

According to WFP Malawi spokeswoman Stephanie Savariaud, "Mwanza was chosen as a centre because the prevalence of HIV/AIDS incidence in the district is high ... approximately 20 percent. Life expectancy of men is 44 years and female life expectancy is 46 years."

She noted that "In the next few weeks another wellness centre will be open near the WFP warehouse in Blantyre [the commercial capital in the south of the country]. The second phase of the project will see the scale-up of services and expansion to the Mozambique port of Beira and the Beira-Tete corridor, a major transport route for WFP food aid."

The project, which drew on the experiences of a South African programme 'Truckers Against AIDS', was supported locally by the government of Malawi, the Transport Operators Association of Malawi, the MRA and others.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Economy


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.