Sex workers, truck drivers, store personnel and port workers now all have access to information, counselling on HIV and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases where and when they need it most, thanks to an innovative new project launched by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners in Malawi.
Aware that its own transport workers might be contributing to the spread of HIV, WFP and TNT, the global mail, express and logistics company, have set up the first of its Wellness Centres at the Mwanza border crossing to give truckers, and the communities they pass through, access to life-saving information on how to avoid contracting HIV and passing it on to others.
"Long nights, young men far from home, and an abundance of poor young women makes this a perfect location for HIV to spread – and an ideal place to intervene to stop it," WFP Country Director Dom Scalpelli said.
"That is why Mwanza was the first place WFP and its partners chose to install the 'Muyende Bwino Pit Stop', the first Wellness Centre in Malawi," he added.
In response to the dramatic food crisis currently gripping Malawi, trucks contracted by WFP are among the dozens of heavy vehicles that queue up every night at Mwanza, Malawi's busiest border crossing, handling 70 per cent of all road freight into the southern African country.
Since January, some 600 WFP trucks have crossed the border on their way to and from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The Swedish International Development Agency and the Malawian Ministry of Health are also participating in the project. Treatment for minor ailments and sexually transmitted diseases is available, as well as referrals to voluntary counselling, testing and treatment for HIV. The centres are open when their clients need them most.
WFP is mounting a relief operation in Malawi to reach more than 4 million people no longer able to feed themselves due to drought and the government's dwindling ability to cope as farmers, workers and civil servants continue to succumb to the deadly AIDS pandemic.
"AIDS has cut a huge swathe through Malawian society. In a country where poverty is endemic and drought a regular feature of rural life, the effects of the pandemic have been truly catastrophic," Mr. Scalpelli said.
WFP is a major transport provider to poor countries, including 21 of the 25 countries worst-affected by AIDS. With more than 5,000 trucks carrying food to hungry people in more than 80 countries, plus countless workers in ports, warehouses, railways and airports, its contractors and staff work along the corridors where HIV rates are among the highest in the world.
And since they travel to some of the most remote places in the world, they can contribute to the spread of the disease. HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness activities are provided to all of WFP's staff worldwide, and offered to transport workers in places like Ethiopia and Myanmar.