About 9 000 truck drivers and sex workers have visited the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) Mobile Wellness Centre at Oshikango this year.
Samuel Taapopi, coordinator of the centre there, said the mobile wellness centre was launched at the Oshikango Border Post in August 2011, and has been very busy since then.
He told Nampa on the sidelines of the Health and Wellness Fair organised by the Ministry of Works and Transport in Windhoek on Thursday that there are only two fixed wellness centres in Namibia - one in Walvis Bay and one in Katima Mulilo.
The only mobile wellness centre is based in Oshikango, and all are funded by the WBCG. The wellness programme complements the WBCG’s HIV/AIDS Help Desk and other similar regional efforts in addressing and reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic along the Walvis Bay corridors, principally comprising the Port of Walvis Bay, the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, the Trans-Caprivi Corridor, the Trans-Cunene Corridor, and the Trans-Oranje Corridor.
These wellness centres provide free services, primarily to truck drivers on HIV/AIDS-related health matters to ultimately fulfill a strategic role of support to the mobile population. Wellness focus areas are mitigation of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), free of charge medical services, primary health care, counseling, and overall health and wellbeing of truckers. Patients receive treatment for illnesses, and are referred to hospitals for further medical care by doctors if need be.
According to Taapopi, there is a need for one more van to be used as a mobile wellness centre at Oshikango. One van costs about N$ 700 000. The WBCG is a public-private partnership established to promote the utilisation of the Walvis Bay corridors. It has offices in Windhoek, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
The WBCG established a representation office in Brazil to focus on establishing and maintaining key business relationships with the transport community to enhance the utilisation of the Walvis Bay Corridors using the Port of Walvis Bay.
In its 2005 report on the global incidence HIV/AIDS, the United Nations said the rate of infections in Southern Africa, already among the highest, continues to increase. And studies have demonstrated that highly mobile populations in the region, including truck drivers and the prostitutes who serve them, have very high rates of infection.
They are part a key and complex transport web in Southern Africa, this steady stream of trucks pulling into and out of the truck stop at the border posts - at any moment there might be as many as 50 trucks waiting to cross the border.
Their drivers have been on the road for up to four weeks, hauling the fuel and goods so essential to the region’s economies; and, the food and medicine for those suffering the consequences of crop failures, chronic poverty and HIV/AIDS.
But often they carry something else, dangerous to themselves and those with whom they are intimate - sexually transmitted infections or STIs, and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A 2001 South African study found the prevalence of HIV among truck drivers was 56 percent and in some cases as high as 70 percent; and in female sex workers at the truck stops it went as high as 74 percent. In Malawi one trucking company lost 83 drivers out of 100 to AIDS.
In response, South Africa launched a network of so-called Wellness Centers at truck stops, where drivers and sex workers have access to education on STIs and HIV, free condoms, and treatment for STIs. The program has spread to several countries, Namibia included.
Humanitarian workers say this is particularly important in a group that has such a high incidence of HIV, even though it may at the start seem to be too little, too late. In South Africa in 2002, Wellness Centers distributed 350,000 condoms and 30,000 visitors received STI and HIV education. -nampa