The HIV/AIDS pandemic currently devastating the African continent is being combated in Kenya and Tanzania with a programme to inform and educate the African truck driver and his partners.
Long haul truckers plying the Trans-Africa Highway that links the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa with the inland cities of East and Central Africa, and the Tanzam Highway between Dar es Salaam and the Zambian border were initially targeted.
Initiated by the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) in 1990, the project began with extensive research on the peoples' knowledge, understanding and behaviour, and their possible role in curbing the epidemic.
The findings indicated that many considered Aids as a disease of foreigners (outsiders) and 'slim' people, as well as relating it to the breaking of traditional incest taboos.
Other misconceptions included transmission via mosquito bites, kissing and hugging, and sharing toilets. Only about half of those surveyed had ever used a condom. It's not so different to the misunderstanding of many Europeans.
Two sites were chosen by the project as providing useful locations for AIDS education and health promotion. Simbia is a small trading post about 60 miles from Nairobi. Three hotels and four bars provide about 20 trucks with a night's stopover. Truck's are usually carrying two or three men, including mechanics and turnboys who assist with loading.
The other site chosen is a much larger truckstop at Mashinari 135 miles from Nairobi. Mashinari was a machinery depot, hence the name, when the Trans-Africa Highway was being built. It now boasts 10 bars and seven hotels as well as several restaurants, and on average around 50 trucks stop here everyday.
An important amenity offered at both Simbia and Machinari is a good security system which guarantees the safety of the trucks' cargo. Truckers prefer to avoid stopping in Nairobi where armed robbery is prevalent and hotel rooms are more expensive.
The bars at these stops are generally owned and staffed by women. Women are also engaged in activities such as selling fruit and vegetables as well as miraa...