Feature story

Highly vulnerable transport sector needs effective HIV programmes

11 July 2011

Credit: North Star Alliance

Mobile populations, especially transport workers, are highly vulnerable to HIV. Many truck drivers and other mobile workers spend large amounts of time away from their families and can have multiple sexual partners. These include sex workers and others living along the highway and around truck stops.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), International Transport Workers’ Federation, International Organization for Migration, UNAIDS and Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division organized a workshop in Johannesburg from 29-30 March 2011 to review current evidence related to HIV and the transport sector in southern Africa and to identify gaps and research agendas to strengthen evidence.

“We need to approach the transport sector in an integrated way that cuts across borders,” said Vic Van Vuuren, Director, ILO, East and Southern Africa.

The workshop brought together stakeholders operating in the transport sector in the most HIV affected regions of southern Africa. Participants included transport ministries, National AIDS Councils, civil society, development partners and representatives of the related employers’ and workers’ organisations, from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania.

Transportation is integral to development in southern Africa. At a macro-economic level, countries’ ability to import and export goods and move economic inputs and outputs is a key element of GDP growth. At a city and community level, people’s ability to move and trade crucially affects their income and livelihood. There is ample evidence that HIV is impacting negatively on the transportation sector in the region.

A key part of the workshop offered participants and stakeholders, grouped according to their country of origin, to collectively devise strategic action frameworks. Each country agreed to a set of actions that they will take forward within the next two years to ensure progress in the areas of HIV and transportation. This was done in light of the international labour standard, 2010 ILO Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work.

Conclusions and findings:

Transport sector employees are not the only demographic group that is vulnerable to health issues. Communities and traders that live and operate along transport corridors face health risks as well. According to the participants, there is a need for both a conceptual and pragmatic focus on vulnerable places instead of vulnerable groups.

Evidence shows that HIV programmatic health centres have been better received by end users when the term ‘Wellness Centre’ is used instead of ‘HIV’ or ‘AIDS Centres’. The adoption of a more general term avoids feeding the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. It also shifts the focus from solely responding to HIV to improving the broader health and general well-being of clients.

Participants also identified the need to strengthen current efforts to unify customs protocols and avoid unnecessary delays at border posts. Delays at border posts increase the time that transport sector workers spend idle and away from their families —increasing their likelihood of engaging in high-risk behaviour.

The engagement of communities in the planning, design and implementation phases of projects was highlighted as key to ensuring that programmes will be well received and that they will be effective in the long-term.