LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka
STUDIES have shown that geographical mobility is known to increase the risk of infection and disease because the majority of mobile populations have limited access to health care information and services.
Mobility is also increasingly being recognised as a potential barrier to HIV treatment, care and access to health care services generally.
Truckers and long-distance bus drivers are among population groups that have challenges accessing health care information and services because of the nature of their occupation. They have little or no time to access these services even where such exist or they do not know where to seek information and services.
It is against this background that those concerned with the welfare of mobile populations have come up with programmes of ensuring that truck drivers and long-distance drivers have access to healthcare information and services.
Mobile Alive Zambia (MoAZ) is one such organisation that has been training change agents. Their main role is to sensitise their peers about health living and providing relevant information around prevention of communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV and AIDS, among other diseases of great public health concern. The change agents also work to mentor their peers about ways of reaching out to others.
“We are fully aware of the susceptibility of transport workers, particularly drivers, to poor health outcomes, and we have since started developing strategies to address this issue. The engagement of change agents has proved to be a more effective way of providing mentorship and reaching out to truckers and long-distance bus drivers.
The training programme for change agents has been designed to suit the needs and level of this very target population,” says MoAZ programmes coordinator Munsaka Mubela.
Mr Mubela said about 100 change agents have been trained, with Lusaka and Central Province getting a share of 58, while on the Copperbelt Province, there are 42 trained change agents.
The change agents training programme includes a component of human rights, migration and health, gender- based violence and HIV prevention and care. It also includes skills training and mentorship of trainees.
“Being a change agent is both challenging and exciting in that it provides one with an opportunity to learn as well as serve as a role model to others. My role involves having roadside health talks with fellow truck drivers at any given opportunity. I also talk about safety on the road and how we ought to conduct ourselves,” says Frederick Muchinzi, a truck driver for Satwant Transport.
Another change agent, Benson Kabaso, a safety coordinator for AM Motors, notes that change agents are playing an important role in ensuring that truck drivers and long-distance bus drivers are encouraged to practise healthy habits.
“We encourage them to abstain from behaviour that would put them at risk of contracting diseases. We also encourage them to go for HIV counselling and testing so that they can receive appropriate treatment and care,” he said.
Mr Kabaso said in an effort to meet the health needs of its workers, AM Motors organises health camps for its employees once every quarter. The idea is bring various health care services closer to its employees, the majority being truck drivers.
Recently, AM Motors, in collaboration with Vision Care, organised an eye screening camp for its employees and affiliates. “The response was very good,” enthused Mr Kabaso, and added, “I implore other transport companies to consider investing in health camps. We have seen from our end that such initiatives not only work to encourage workers to seek health care services but also promotes good health habits among the under-served populations such as truck drivers and bus drivers.”
Truck drivers and cross- border bus drivers play an important role in the economies of southern Africa in particular, due to limited waterways and inadequate rail services to transport goods and services.
Reports on access to health care services for mobile communities point to the fact that truckers and long-distance bus drivers have exceptional health needs, by virtue of their continuous travel and in most cases experience difficulties in accessing health care services due to the nature of their occupation. Presently, there exists no proper planning for effective health care for this population group as information regarding their health needs is limited.
A number of programmes seeking to address the health needs of this particular mobile population have been implemented in several sub-Saharan African countries. Of those evaluated, potential benefits to truck drivers have been shown. But there still exists information gaps with regard to the availability of services. This impedes further planning and implementation of effective health care programmes for truck drivers and other long-distance drivers.
Because of the transcontinental nature of the transport industry, health programmes prioritising this group require inter-governmental collaboration as well as complementary national health policies.
It has also been observed that the interconnected nature of the transportation system provides a great opportunity to establish stronger linkages to health care programmes and provision of services for this very important population. Without this, truck drivers and long-distance bus drivers will be left behind in efforts to achieve the global goals for access to health care services for all.
LILLIAN BANDA, Lusaka