Drivers only stop to drink and buy girls

By Lorraine Anyango
Posted Monday, March 28 2011 at 22:00
Muhammad Bwire lives on the road. He spends up to seven days before getting to his destination, driving a 24-wheel truck from Kampala to Mombasa.

He has been on the road for seven years now.

“We only stop to fill up at petrol stations, drink alcohol and later buy girls,” says the 50-year-old driver.

Though he has a wife and five children, he has five to eight girlfriends in towns along the highway.

“When we are on the road, far away from home, it gets lonely. We need someone to talk to, and to entertain us. That is why we get women,” he said.

Mr Bwire has company. Many truck drivers are exposed to a lifestyle that comes with the risks of contracting HIV in Busia Town, at the border with Uganda. Busia and its environs has a prevalence rate of 7.4 per cent, against the national rate of 6.3 per cent.

Wellness Centre

It’s this population that a new 24-hour road-side clinic, Busia Wellness Centre, is now serving for free, in a bid to reduce the HIV prevalence rate.

The second one of its kind in Kenya after Malaba, the clinic was put up at a cost of Sh2.4 million by the International Organisation for Immigration (IOM) and the National Aids Control Council (NACC).

The organisations are also targeting the hard-to-reach population and vulnerable people such as police officers in remote areas, boda boda cyclists and prostitutes.

The clinic located at the heart of Busia Trailer Park comes in handy for neighbouring villagers who no longer need to walk long distances to a HIV clinic.

The centre brings services closer to people who need it by supplying drugs and providing information.

The health needs of mobile population, such as truck drivers and prostitutes are not being met in Kenya. Health clinics are not accessible for people who need to get the services in remote locations and those who work at odd hours.

The Busia Wellness Centre also provides free tuberculosis, malaria and HIV treatment. Nurses are available 24 hours a day and also offer HIV counseling.

The Busia town council embraced the centre and donated electricity and water supplies.

During its launch last week, Prof Alloys Orago, the director of the National AIDS Control Council said it was the beginning of partnership with IOM and the Kenya National AIDS/STI Control Programme (NASCOP).

He said they hoped to provide the entire northern transport corridor with free health clinics specifically designed for hard-to-reach population.

“We see the Busia Wellness Centre acting as a platform for a more comprehensive prevention approach,” He added.

He said that there was need to address such issues as condom availability and empowering prostitutes to negotiate safer sex adding that overcoming misconceptions surrounding HIV will be addressed.

“We must ensure that those providing clinic services and behavioural interventions are collaborating towards common objectives,” Mr Greg Irving, health programme officer at IOM said
He called for strengthened partnerships, accountability, coordination and financial commitment which would ultimately prevent new HIV infections.

The Busia Wellness Centre has already triggered a cross border meeting between Kenyan and Ugandan government officials.

The leaders will strengthen existing relationships and provide an opportunity to highlight common health care challenges between the two countries. Participants are also scheduled to agree on jointly managing identified challenges, and will work towards a common health care package.

During the launch, Mr Andrew O. Mondoh, PS Special Programmes said the clinic was specifically equipped to meet the needs of the cross border mobile Population and the area community.

“It is however, important for us as a community to work together in order to rid ourselves of the stigma that may be one of the major obstacles standing in our way to achieving this.”

He encouraged area residents to make use of the free health services offered at this clinic.

He said that despite the progress made, there were continuing and emerging challenges that needed to be addressed for the country to achieve its national goals as articulated in the Kenya National AIDS Strategic Plan 2009/10-2012/13 and go beyond the universal access targets of 2010.

He said that the challenges included high new infection rates which was estimated at 166,000 annually in 2007 and risky behaviour.

Busia Wellness Centre

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