Truck drivers and prostitutes are the major drivers of sexually transmitted diseases, especially in border towns in the Sadc region with statistics showing that of over 10 000 tested, nearly half had STIs.
Speaking at the official hand over of four cross-border clinics by Sadc secretariat to Government in Victoria Falls recently, Health and Child Care Secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji said 10 823 men and women aged 15 from Beitbridge, Chirundu South, Forbes and Victoria Falls were tested. Of these 2 943 were long distance truck drivers from different countries while 2 354 were commercial sex workers.
Dr Gwinji said from those tested, 4 923 had different STIs. He said in line with the new Government policy to test and treat for HIV and Aids, 207 people from Beitbridge and Chirundu South have since been put on anti-retroviral treatment. "What we have heard so far is a positive story of how this initiative has brought about development in our border towns," said Dr Gwinji.
He said Government was looking forward to continued implementation and strengthening of the cross-border programme as the country steps up efforts to close the tap of all new HIV infections.
According to latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, new HIV cases were more prevalent in long distant truck drivers, sex workers, prisoners and adolescents.
Dr Gwinji said the cross border clinics, whose idea was mooted by SADC in partnership with North Star Alliance, played a key role in diagnosing and treating all HIV and other related infections among the key populations.
"The nature of their jobs and lifestyles of communities in these areas including sex workers and long distant truck drivers pose a challenge regarding early case detection and diagnoses, retention in care management of communicable and non communicable diseases," said Dr Gwinji.
He said through the cross border clinics, these key populations were able to access relevant services. Speaking at the same occasion, director for STIs, Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Owen Mugurungi said the idea of cross border clinics came after the realisation that HIV prevalence rate in key populations was high along transport corridors in the Sadc region.
He said a baseline survey conducted before establishment of the clinics showed that HIV prevalence in three border sites in Southern Africa was 53 percent for sex workers and 26 percent for long distant truck drivers as opposed to a range of 15 to 20 percent in the general population across Sadc countries.
"This rather sad situation gave birth to the Sadc cross-border initiative, which is a regional intervention, supported by the Global Fund and is aimed at establishing wellness clinics for sex workers, long distant truck drivers and communities around the 32 border sites on the Sadc region," said Dr Mugurungi.
The participating Sadc member states include Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibian South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, the clinics are situated at Forbes, Beitbridge, Chirundu South and Victoria Falls, which are high volume border posts.
Sadc representative Dr Ityai Muvandi said the idea behind the cross border initiative was to foster economic growth by improving health outcomes among Sadc citizens.