A moon­lit in­ter­ven­tion for Mat South

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - HEALTH - Em­manuel Kafe

UN­DER the sim­mer­ing heat of this part of the world, the road winds up and down, turn­ing into sud­den hair­pin curves be­fore break­ing into mopane flat land. And here, a road in­signia screams, Beit­bridge Bor­der Post! There is a lot of noise. A bliz­zard of static as the night en­velopes the Mata­bele­land South prov­ince.

It is here, that ladies of all types - short, stout or tall, light or dark, onion-shaped or pen­cil-slim dab­ble in the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion, com­mer­cial sex work.

More of­ten than not, when a haulage truck huffs and puffs, hob­bling to a grind­ing halt, bizarre and un­think­able things hap­pen.

Some­thing is hitch­ing a ride here. Some­thing deadly.

And it’s al­most as easy to un­load as one of the truck’s con­tain­ers.

Its pres­ence is felt in this small de­vel­op­ing bor­der town here, where semi-trail­ers linger here and there, wait­ing for their cue to move on.

For this par­tic­u­lar group of peo­ple, it is busi­ness as usual.

A re­cent me­dia tour with the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil last week to this prov­ince and the Beit­bridge town in par­tic­u­lar, saw women as young as 15-years-old trad­ing their bod­ies for goods or money from truck driv­ers.

Ser­vices like cook­ing and laun­dry for truck driv­ers are of­fered for free; you only part with be­tween US$1 and US$5 to ex­tend the ser­vices to those of a sex­ual va­ri­ety.

“They are our maids by day and wives at night as we wait for bor­der clear­ance here. Some even of­fer free ser­vices like tidy­ing and cook­ing, some end up hav­ing an af­fairs with these women,” said Farai Gombedza, a cross-bor­der driver as he con­versed with this writer.

It is no great won­der that the prov­ince’s HIV preva­lence rate is about 22 per­cent, one of the high­est in Zim­babwe. Mr Pros­per Mupa, the NAC act­ing pro­vin­cial man­ager who dou­bles as the mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of­fi­cer, said: “Ac­cord­ing to the Zim­babwe De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey of 2015, chil­dren in Mata­bele­land prov­ince have HIV preva­lence rate in chil­dren of 2,2 per­cent with adults hav­ing a rate of 21,5 per­cent.

He added that ma­jor con­tributers of such rates were spousal sep­a­ra­tion, low and in­con­sis­tent con­dom use, low risk per­cep­tion and in­ter-gen­er­a­tional sex.

Fa­mous for its hot tem­per­a­tures and a high rate of HIV preva­lence, Beit­bridge has seen sev­eral in­ter­ven­tion projects to stop the world old­est pro­fes­sion trickle down and to counter the spread of HIV and Aids, can­cer and STIs.

The Na­tional Aids Coun­cil and part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions have projects aimed at re­duc­ing the lev­els of the vice that sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­utes to the spread of HIV and Aids.

Projects tar­get­ing hard-to-reach ar­eas, the youths and those who don’t feel com­fort­able avail­ing them­selves at hos­pi­tals and public clin­ics for HIV or STIs test­ing be­cause of the stigma that comes with such ail­ments. Of these projects are moon­light clin­ics, roadside in­ter­ven­tions and mu­si­cal gala’s which so far have yielded pos­i­tive re­sults.

How­ever, moon­light clin­ics stand out of all the projects as it draws a lot of peo­ple. Moon­light clin­ics are mo­bile clinic that al­lows an in­di­vid­ual to nicode­mously sought the ser­vices of nurses at night with­out any­one notic­ing.

These clin­ics are strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned at hotspot ar­eas to al­low peo­ple to visit them se­cretly. There, they of­fer HIV test­ing, can­cer screen­ing and cir­cum­ci­sion.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers con­fided to this pub­li­ca­tion that the pro­gramme is a welcome move as youths who would in the past suf­fer in si­lence from STIs be­cause of the stigma can now get ser­vices freely at these clin­ics.

“Most of our chil­dren do not want to visit clin­ics and hos­pi­tals in broad day light for treat­ment of HIV and STIs,” said a man who only iden­ti­fied him­self as Chag­wada.

Mr Mupa said moon­light clin­ics are or­gan­ised once or twice a year in Beit­bridge es­pe­cially in sea­sons were the com­mu­nity or­gan­ise events like cat­tle auc­tions.

“There is a cat­tle auc­tion that takes place ev­ery year in the district were peo­ple from all walks come and en­joy as there will be mu­si­cal galas af­ter the auc­tion. At such events com­mer­cial sex work­ers come in their num­bers hence an op­por­tu­nity for us to give them test­ing ser­vices,” he said.

The cat­tle auc­tions draw more than 1 000 peo­ple from across Mata­bele­land South.

Apart from cat­tle sale events, night clin­ics are done at strate­gic places such as truck-stops, night clubs or dur­ing mu­si­cal shows, specif­i­cally tar­get­ing com­mer­cial sex work­ers and their clients.

The lat­est moon­light in­ter­ven­tion of their sec­ond quar­ter of 2017 which was con­ducted at Esigo­dini Night Spot in Jab­ula saw peo­ple re­spond­ing to HIV test­ing and ac­cord­ing to Mr Mupa, about 15 per­cent peo­ple who were tested, re­turned pos­i­tive.

Na­tional Aids Coun­cil said the in­ter­ven­tions have yielded re­sults as there has been a de­crease in the num­ber of STIs in­fec­tion in the district.

Dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2017 the district had the high­est num­ber of STIs with 12 669 peo­ple in­fected with STIs, which has dra­mat­i­cally de­creased to 1 023 af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of moon­light clin­ics and roadside in­ter­ven­tions.

The sharp de­crease is at­trib­uted to the com­pre­hen­sive HIV and Aids ed­u­ca­tion, con­dom dis­tri­bu­tion and con­dom use. Apart from moon­light in­ter­ven­tions, NAC re­alised that a pro­por­tion of the truck­ing com­mu­nity are ef­fec­tively trans­port­ing HIV across Africa, with Zim­babwe the nexus of the epi­demic, hence they in­tro­duced roadside in­ter­ven­tion.

“To date we have pro­vided ser­vices to more than 3 000 peo­ple through roadside in­ter­ven­tion,” said Mr Mupa.

Be­yond the reach of health sys­tems, peo­ple on the move, like truck driv­ers and sex work­ers, are more vul­ner­a­ble to ill­ness and play a piv­otal role in trans­mit­ting dis­ease be­tween com­mu­ni­ties across bor­ders. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sta­tis­tics from the Min­istry of Health and Child Care, the Mata­bele­land prov­ince has the high­est HIV preva­lence rates in the coun­try with Mate­bele­land South re­main­ing the hotspot for HIV and Aids af­ter record­ing the high­est HIV preva­lence rate for 2016.

Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity re­ceiv­ing test­ing and treat­ment ser­vices at one of the moon­light clinic in Beit­bridge

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