Cross border truck drivers benefit from Roadside Wellness Centres along major routes in Africa whose aim is to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the drivers themselves and populations settled along truck stops by offering health services like behavioural counselling, HIV tests and distributing condoms.
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (NORTH STAR ALLIANCE) - Fifty percent of cross border truck drivers surveyed in Southern Africa are HIV-positive and 34 percent of them say they frequently stop for sex during journeys with a significant number engaging in unprotected sex with prostitutes, the Medical Research Council (MRC) found in a recent survey.
The North Star Alliance, an initiative that started as a partnership between courier company TNT and theUN's World Food Program to deliver food across the region, offers health services to truckers through Roadside Wellness Centres located along major routes in Africa.
Staff at the centers help reduce the spread of HIV amongst truck drivers by offering services such as behavioural counselling, HIV testing and free condoms.
There are 21 clinics in nine countries in Africa.
North Start Alliance director, Paul Matthew says long distance drivers are among one of the most vulnerable groups to pandemics like AIDS.
"Drivers are very much under incredible amount of pressure, high stress, long periods away from home and have very very few resources or facilities they can rely on when they are travelling and all of these factors together are putting an enormous amount of pressure not only on the transport industry but also as a result turning these groups into vulnerable population for disease," said Matthew.
The virus is also spreading faster and killing more people in this part of the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 1.9 million new cases out of a global total of 2.7 million in the same year, and 1.2 million out of the 1.8 million deaths.
Matthew says there are plans to increase the clinics on truck routes to reach even more people.
"By 2015 we think we will have around 100 wellness centres in operation, able to provide in access 85 percent of cross border traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa and we are looking to the day when we will be serving a million people of different points along the trans-borders in Africa," he said.
South Africa, the continent's biggest economy is home to 6 million HIV/AIDS infected people.
Experts say the focus is turning to tackling new infections.
According to a recent research by the Lancet medical journal the country has achieved a "stunning" increase in life expectancy in the last three years due to a government push to roll out antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).
"We are reaching a phase where we are having less deaths that are related to HIV but we are having people that are getting infected with HIV which is where we really have to focus our attention, prevention remains the most important thing. The other thing is that has been noticeable as a trend is that people, if are one treatment they are not adhering to their treatment and those that are HIV positive, the majority of them don't even know that they are HIV positive. So there is still a lot of stigma there to be dealing with, there is of adherence counselling that needs to be done, innovation around how to get people to adhere to their treatment," said AIDS Consortium Executive Director, Rhulani Lehloka.
Nearly 2 million people are now taking ARVs daily in South Africa -- what is the world's largest ARV programme. That total compares with 912,000 in 2009 and just 235,000 three years before that.