Boredom and loneliness makes truck drivers susceptible to HIV/AIDS
Long distance truck driving is a male dominated profession and it is long acknowledged that most drivers face a host of challenges due to the nature of their work. One of these challenges, apart from spending hours at borders, is that cross-border truck drivers spend long periods away from their loved ones. This puts them and their families, especially their spouses, at risk of HIV/AIDS.
It is well documented that boredom and loneliness places truck drivers at very high-risk of acquiring as well as spreading HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).
Being away from home most of the time tempts them to engage in casual sex, as this is also a physiological need that needs to be satisfied. Sex workers readily provide this service, as they are easily and cheaply available, and the trucks provide the needed privacy the drivers them most susceptible to HIV/AIDS and other STIs. In turn, they infect their spouses.
The situation is further worsened if the wives/partners of truck drivers also engage in promiscuous activities while their husbands/partners are away from home.
The increasing number of infected truck drivers, especially in the Southern Africa region, means the AIDS pandemic will continue to spread, even to rural areas, and could destroy entire communities.
According to the 2006 Baseline Report on Business and HIV/AIDS by Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, the transport industry ranked lowest in efforts to protect employees against HIV and other infectious diseases.
Various studies in Africa have indicated that over 80 percent of truckers indulge in promiscuity during their trips and condom use was also reportedly very low and inconsistent and most of them visited commercial sex workers.
Today, the HIV infection rate among long-distance truck drivers is believed to be at least twice that of the general population in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Therefore, comprehensive interventions addressing the truckers’ lifestyles are crucial.
These may include interventions emphasising on behaviour change, communication and initiating social interventions which facilitate status of a ‘safety tool’ rather than a ‘distrust symbol’ to condom.
We need intervention programmes that go beyond inking the walls with slogans or paying lip service to intervene and help substantially reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in the transport sector in the SADC region through education, counselling and testing, and therapy in order to reduce the rate of HIV infection and mitigate the negative impact of HIV/AIDS on transport workers, transport operators, and national and regional economies.
Mandatory monthly check-ups for truckers and HIV education for sex workers could go a long way in alleviating this problem.
More management sensitisation is also needed in companies because many managers view the creation, funding and operation of HIV/AIDS programmes as a secondary concern that may detract from rather than enhance their companies’ economic performance.
Although a substantial number of policies and codes have been created at regional, national and sectoral level, largely through numerous workshops such as SADC and ILO codes, the national policies of many countries, the transport sector policies and action plans in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the policies of the International Transport Workers Federation, more still needs to be done.