Nov 30
November 30, 2012

Stopping Disease In Its Tracks


Formed in 2005 by express delivery company TNT Express and the World Food Programme, North Star Alliance grew out of one of the very first Clinton Global Initiative commitments. It now runs a network of 28 drop-in health clinics along Africa's major transport routes to provide health care, including HIV prevention, counseling, and testing, to underserved populations like long-distance truck drivers.

At age 45, Edward has been traversing crowded African corridors for more than 20 years. As a long-haul truck driver from Malawi, he spends 26 days a month on the road and occasionally faces hazardous situations, from accidents to banditry.

“Being a truck driver is a tough job,” Edward said. “I recently came across some hijackers that wanted to steal my truck. Fortunately, they didn’t succeed. I fought and overpowered them. But they did manage to cut off my finger with a knife during the struggle.”

Edward and other African drivers like him face a much broader set of issues, however, are often not part of the stories they share. Like in many regions around the world, truck drivers suffer from a range of ailments linked directly to their mobile lifestyles. As a result, endemic diseases like diabetes and hypertension can be easily compounded by regional epidemics ranging from malaria to HIV. Without adequate care, these diseases take a tremendous toll on a driver, their families, and the communities where they live and work.

At the Crossroads of Health and Mobility

Around the world, transport and supply chain companies and large humanitarian organizations depend on drivers like Edward to move consumer goods, relief supplies, and other materials. In Africa, however, the drivers who transport more than 85 percent of all freight across the continent also suffer from some of the worst working conditions of any industry. In certain regions, prevalence rates for communicable diseases including HIV are twice as high among truck drivers as they are among the general population, and road crashes are the second leading cause of death among males aged 15-49, following AIDS. This reality has also had a tremendous impact on income security, market stability, and economic growth across Africa.

Our Clinton Global Initiative Commitment

Over the last few decades, the reality faced by truck drivers has had a significant and complex impact on both public health and economic security in countries across Africa. Since the advent of the HIV epidemic, this has never been truer. When we recognized this fact in 2004, we set out to find a solution. Fortunately, this complex issue was supported by one factor, which could be addressed: simple barriers like distance and operating hours were preventing truck drivers from accessing medical services.

To solve this problem, North Star Alliance, alongside its founding partners TNT Express and the World Food Programme, developed the Roadside Wellness Centre (RWC) concept, and in 2005, committed to building a network of health clinics along Africa’s major transport routes. These centers would be built in converted shipping containers, allowing them to be easily and economically transported across the continent. The clinics would be open late, when drivers had time to visit them, and, most importantly, they would be placed directly where drivers stopped, and where informal trades like sex work flourished.

When we made our commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in 2005, we only had one RWC on the ground. Since then, with the support of more than 70 public and private partners, we’ve established 28 across Africa, and, in the coming 18 months, we plan to open 21 more. Additionally, while we began with an explicit focus to address the impact of HIV and AIDS on the transport sector, we’ve been able to expand the range of services provided and our capacity to provide them to a broader public. While we continue to work on reducing the spread of HIV, all of our clinics now provide primary health care, as well as testing and treatment for high-impact diseases, including tuberculosis, malaria, and sexually transmitted infections, to truck drivers, sex workers, and the general public.

Six years ago, there were few places drivers like Edward could go to receive medical treatment, and few professionals available to provide it. As we continue to work toward meeting our CGI commitment alongside a network of dedicated partners, this will no longer be the case.

Photo Credit: Dave Chidley