Stories submitted by Clémentine Noblecourt, Project Manager, Malawi.
Making the decision to get tested for HIV can be difficult. For many, it means confronting not only the status of their own health, but their social status within a community as well. Ensuring that every community has access to high quality information, counseling, and medical care is, therefore, paramount to reducing not only the number of new infections, but the overall health and wellbeing of a community.
At North Star Alliance, our network of Roadside Wellness Centres ensures that this is possible not only for the physical communities adjacent to truck stops but for highly mobile communities of truck drivers, who typically have less access to consistent information and healthcare.
This past World AIDS Day, staff and volunteers at our Roadside Wellness Center in Mwanza, Malawi, led a campaign encouraging truck drivers, local sex workers and the surrounding community to take a rapid test for HIV. Recently, we received a few personal stories from our World AIDS Day campaign that highlight the tremendous importance of HIV testing broadly, and of the Roadside Wellness Centre services in Mwanza.
In Mwanza, North Star’s Roadside Wellness Centre now conducts on average more than 1000 behavior change communication sessions monthly, while providing essential treatment and counseling for sexually transmitted infections and primary healthcare to truck drivers, sex workers, and the community.
George is a 26 year-old clearing agent at the Mwanza border post. He is well aware of North Star’s Roadside Wellness Centre and finds it very useful whenever he feels sick while working. Unfortunately, George has never been tested for HIV and claims that he “never felt like it”.
He admits that he knows a lot of people who are HIV positive or who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. A few months ago, George got married and wanted to know whether he was on the “safe” side or not. After being exposed to various World AIDS Day campaigns, George made the decision to get tested. He admits that he never uses condoms but that he has no other partners than his wife. After a stressful 15 minutes, George looks at his HIV test and realizes he is HIV negative. He now will encourage his wife to be tested as soon as possible.
Edward is 24 years-old and is Malawian. At the beginning of 2010, when the ‘World Cup Effect’ caused many Malawians to immigrate to South Africa, Edward moved to Johannesburg to work as a tailor. He is now on his way back to Zomba, his hometown, with his wife and two children.
Edward has been tested several times in his life and is aware of the risks of HIV infection as well as how to prevent it. He has been stuck at the border for several days now and decides to get tested as he knows it is World AIDS Day and knows that “AIDS is a killing disease; we must take time to see if our blood is right”.
Edward tested negative and expects to keep it that way!
Tiliza is 16 years-old. She’s Malawian and doesn’t go to school. Living in Mwanza Boma (town) she often comes to the truck stop at the border post knowing that she will be able to make some money. Tiliza is a sex worker.
The educator at the Wellness Centre, Medson, knows how to talk to Tiliza and when he sees her jumping out of a truck on the morning of World AIDS Day, he manages to convince her to come for an HIV test. She seems confused and admits that she doesn’t know anything about HIV. Recognizing Tiliza has a high risk of contracting HIV, the clinical officer at the Wellness Centre offers to give her a detailed counseling session. Currently, the HIV prevalence of sex workers in Malawi is 70.7% (UNGASS Report 2010).
Tiliza is HIV positive and needs some further counseling. Not being able to handle this news, she bursts into tears and tells her life story. She is still a child but she has already faced three abortions and she has a child of her own, she needs help. The Roadside Wellness Centre helped her discover her HIV status, and will offer continued counseling and make sure she has access to antiretroviral treatment.
Jonathan is a Zimbabwean truck driver who regularly visits the Wellness Centres in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe . He feels safe knowing that there are health facilities on the road designed especially for people like him.
Jonathan regularly tests for HIV. On the morning of World AIDS Day, Jonathan passed through the Mwanza Wellness Centre to get tested. After receiving a negative result, he encourages all of his colleagues and other drivers he meets on the road to visit the growing network of North Star Roadside Wellness Centres.
These are just four of thousands of stories from our Mwanza Roadside Wellness Centre. To date North Star has built and maintains 21 centres in 9 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa that have reached nearly 110,000 men, and 60,000 women with a variety of health related services. By the end of 2011 North Star plans to operate 46 centres, eventually growing that number to its optimal level of 100 Roadside Wellness Centres across Africa by 2014. You can help us do this by Donating Online!