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Educate truckers to check AIDS: study

Staff Reporter

This section is the relevant "link'' in battle against HIV virus

NEW DELHI: Despite several intervention programmes, ignorance and lack of one-to-one contact continues to plague the largest and most important "link" in the battle against HIV virus.

Releasing a pilot study on truck drivers and helpers, who through their sheer numbers are among the most relevant link in controlling the AIDS virus in India, the Centre for Media Studies said that as the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) begins its Phase III programme.

The study collected exhaustive data from 175 truck drivers and helpers at various points of four stretches of the golden quadrilateral of National Highways between Delhi-Kolkata, Kolkata-Chennai, Chennai-Mumbai and Mumbai-Delhi.

The most important findings of the study indicated that though a large percentage of truck drivers and helpers had heard of HIV/AIDS, only two out of ten could differentiate between them. For most, the two were same and for some HIV and AIDS were two "different diseases".

Very few, like V. K. Naidu, one of the truck drivers contacted on the Kolkata-Chennai stretch, mentioned, "HIV is a virus. AIDS is a disease.'' Another driver interviewed at a point on the Delhi-Kolkata route remarked, "HIV is preventable, but one cannot protect oneself from AIDS,'' by which he meant that one can avoid HIV but once infected with it, one cannot avoid AIDS,'' said the project manager of the Centre For Media Studies, Alok Srivastava.

Risk group profile

Respondent profile indicates that 95 per cent were in the age group of 18 to 45 years and 80 per cent were married. More than three-fourths were in the profession of truck driving for more than five years. Around 40 per cent truckers' had attained secondary or higher level of education.

The study also indicated that every third trucker visited a commercial sex worker. CMS researchers, however, maintained that the figure should be considered much higher than reported as more than half were hesitant to admit their contact with sex workers.

"Also, it was found that though more than 90 per cent truckers were aware that unprotected sex is the main mode of HIV spread, only 18 per cent of these truckers used condom every time they visited a commercial sex worker,'' added Mr. Srivastava.

It is a known fact now that the time that the truck drivers and helpers spend away from their homes puts them in close proximity to high-risk sexual behaviour. Therefore they are crucial partners in stopping the spread of HIV.

It was also found that while television and radio messages have to an extent made this section familiar with HIV/AIDS, the truck drivers and cleaners contacted said that less than one-third of them were ever contacted on a one-to-one programme.

"We have long understood the need for one-to-one interaction to bring about the desired behaviour change, among truckers workers. Health workers, private or public, need much more concrete and planned efforts.

Presence of referral doctors nearby to these stopovers would be an added advantage also communicating messages through `peer educators', will help slow down HIV spread,'' said Mr. Srivastava.

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