The North Star Alliance has been establishing clinics along major transport hubs to provide sex education, HIV counselling and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. The result has been well-informed truck drivers who share HIV prevention and healthy living messages as they travel, writes NJOKI CHEGE
Every week, Mercy Wambui, 22, visits a certain roadside wellness clinic in Mai Mahiu for free condoms and VCT services.
For the past five years, Mercy has been a commercial sex worker in Mai Mahiu, a major transport hub along the Nairobi-Naivasha highway. The town, like many others in the transport corridors, has been a hotspot for HIV and Aids.
The wellness clinic Mercy attends is one among seven other drop-in roadside wellness centres established by the North Star Alliance in Kenya.
Formed in 2006, North Star Alliance wanted to create awareness on the toll of HIV and Aids along the transport corridors. They set up their first roadside wellness clinic on the Mwanza border crossing between Malawi and Mozambique and its success triggered many other clinics in the African transport corridors.
In Kenya, North Star Alliance has seven wellness clinics situated at major border crossings and truck stops â in Burnt Forest, Mai Mahiu North, Mlolongo, Mombasa, Namanga, Emali and Salgaa. The Mombasa clinic was the first to be set up in Kenya in 2009.
The clinics provide sexual health education, HIV counselling and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, specifically for long-distance truck drivers and the communities with which they interact directly, including sex workers. The clinics also provide basic health services and referrals to local health facilities.
The alliance aims to create a cadre of well-informed truck drivers who are knowledgeable about HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) so that they share HIV prevention and healthy living messages as they travel.
Eva Mwai, the North Star Alliance General Manager for the East African Region, says these services have elicited a positive response from the beneficiaries.
"Today, the commercial sex workers are more vocal, informed and empowered about HIV prevention measures. Some sex workers even volunteer at the clinics when they are not working," says Eva.
However, as she points out, visiting the centres is not easy for these women as they have to contend with stigma.
"Stigmatisation is a big challenge for the sex workers and for us because some may fear being seen near the clinics seeking knowledge on HIV and Aids," Eva adds.