IRIN/PlusNews Examines Spread of HIV in African Border TownsIRIN/PlusNews recently examined how some long-distance truck drivers in parts of East Africa -- including Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda -- will have relationships with women in border towns and typically not use condoms during sex, putting them at an increased risk of HIV/AIDS. Brian Atuhire -- site coordinator for a Family Health International HIV program in Katuna, Uganda -- said truckers do not view these women as commercial sex workers, making it difficult to encourage condom use. "If it is a sex worker who they meet in a bar and pay for sex once, then the truckers know they should use a condom -- to them that's obvious," Atuhire said, adding that the "challenge comes with these so-called 'wives' or 'girlfriends,'" who usually are supported financially by the truck drivers. The men "feel more of a connection" and "believe [the women] are cleaner, so they don't bother with condoms for these women," Atuhire said.
According to voluntary counseling and testing records at the largest health center in the Ugandan border town of Katuna, the town has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of 11% -- higher than the national average of 6.4%. According to a prenatal clinic survey conducted in 2007, the town of Gatuna on the Rwandan side of the border has an HIV/AIDS prevalence of more than 6%, which almost is double the national average, according to IRIN/PlusNews. In an effort to address the issue, FHI is reaching out to low-income commercial sex workers, providing them with skills training in agriculture, commerce and information technology. Atuhire said that competing with the truck drivers -- who give the women as much as $100 per visit -- is a challenge, as is providing information on safer-sex practices to the truck drivers. "After a while the message is routine -- the truckers have heard it all before and know everything they need to know," Atuhire said, adding that the organization "emphasize[s] that they must always use condoms with all their sexual partners, and hopefully the messages will eventually get through" (IRIN/PlusNews, 10/15). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.