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U.S. targets kombi drivers in HIV/AIDS campaign

U.S. targets kombi drivers in HIV/AIDS campaign

ZimPAS

Participants at a focus group discussion session

Bulawayo, April 5 2012: The United States is partnering with a local Bulawayo nongovernmental organization to engage commuter omnibus drivers, conductors and touts in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“We are excited about this new initiative which will benefit both transport operators and passengers,” said Jillian Bonnardeaux, Assistant Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Harare. “We are excited to address this often neglected population by supporting Youth for Today and Tomorrow with PEPFAR (or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) funds. 

The program targets a vulnerable sector of society operating in the transport sector, the majority of whom are youth.  It is unique because it brings information to the place where operators spent most of their time – in their vehicles, where they load passengers.”

Ms Bonnardeaux and other U.S. Embassy officials were part of a focus group discussion session organized and facilitated by local YTT officials and attended by nearly 50 individuals from the transport industry, including commuter omnibus owners.

 

Albert Sibanda, national chairman of the Professional Drivers Association, chronicled some of the challenges facing commuter omnibus drivers in Bulawayo. These included unscheduled working hours, lack of pension, medical and insurance schemes to support workers and poor information on the social lives of drivers and their supportive staffs.

“It is said half bread is better than nothing, we will appreciate anything that comes along our lines of operation as a solution to the health challenges faced by our members which are worsened by STDs, back aches, fatigue and stress,” said Sibanda.

Thokozile Ngwenya, director of YTT, said her organization had conducted a snap survey at one of the busiest commuter omnibus termini in Bulawayo.  After 52 kombi operators were voluntarily tested, the Matabeleland AIDS Council indicated the percentage of positive results was lower than expected. 

“The survey revealed that there was a great need for HIV/ AIDS education for this target group as the group is generally very sexually active and engages in promiscuous behavior,” said Ms Ngwenya. She added, “The major target for their sexual exploits are cash-strapped school girls whom they lure with ready cash for sex in their kombis, even during broad daylight in kombis with tinted windows.” She said some are known to boast about engaging in risky sexual behavior and compete on the number of girls that they concurrently have sex with.

During the focus group discussion, participants discussed ways of actively disseminating information on the prevention and the spread of HIV/AIDS at the termini, the potential for mobile clinics to bring ARVs to the operators, and positive behavior change messaging through vehicle stickers and T- shirts to reach out to hundreds of people.

YTT will partner with other HIV/ AIDS services organizations such as National AIDS Council (NAC), Population Services International (PSI), the Bulawayo Public Transport Association (BUPTA) and the police, among others.

Youths for Today and Tomorrow (YTT) is a youth empowerment, development oriented, non sectarian organization established in 2008 by a diverse group of women. It works to mentor a well informed youth that is able to make a difference at every stage of their lives and who can develop into exceptional future leaders. 

Through PEPFAR, the US government has committed over $60 million in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe including supporting the Zim government’s efforts to scale up of antiretroviral treatment. – ZimPAS © April 2012.

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ZimPAS is a product of the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section. Comments and queries should be addressed to hararepas@state.gov, Url: http://harare.usembassy.gov