In the Fight Against the Spread of HIV/AIDS, There is no Silver Bullet

Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

In the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, there is no silver bullet.

And as we travel throughout sub-Saharan Africa we are seeing dozens of innovative ways that organizations, governments, and individuals are working to fight the disease.

One of the organizations that stands out, thanks to their variety of innovative strategies and approaches to combating the spread of the disease, is the Solidarity Center , an AFL-CIO affiliated non-profit organization that assists workers around the world who are struggling to build democratic and independent trade unions.

We want to share with you three different ways they are making an impact on the ground as we visit projects across the continent.

1) Changing Behavior with Worksite Education and Testing

Johnson Matthey in Germiston , South Africa , just outside of Johannesburg , sees 600 workers pass through its doors every day, heading to work on an assembly lines to make catalytic converters that are inserted in cars to reduce pollution, complying with South Africa 's auto environmental emissions standards.

As we arrived there last January, Percy Nhlapo, a trainer with the Solidarity Center , was leading a discussion with a group of workers, correcting misconceptions about contracting HIV and urging participants to get tested. The Solidarity Center is working in partnership with the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), an industrial affiliate of the country's largest union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), to provide free HIV/AIDS education and HIV counseling and testing to several thousand manufacturing workers a year (literally going from plant to plant providing trainings).

Following the HIV/AIDS education session, more than 200 workers voluntarily agreed to be tested. At the testing area, we spoke with registered nurse Dorothy Majola, who said that before workers are tested they are given private counseling, and then she administers two separate tests - both with 99.99 percent accuracy - to ensure correct results.

Within ten minutes of being tested, workers receive their results. The companies work in coordination with NUMSA and the Solidarity Center , agreeing to host the HIV/AIDS outreach, allowing workers to attend and get tested at the beginning and end of their work shifts. Before each outreach, shop stewards mobilize their co-workers to participate in the HIV/AIDS activities at their workplace.

2) Curbing the Spread of AIDS Along Transportation Routes

When we arrived at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Katuna , Uganda , about 20 long-haul truck drivers were sitting on chairs  and intently watching a match between Manchester United and Chelsea on a small television while they waited for their vehicles to be cleared by customs before entering Rwanda .

But just eight months ago, instead of television, billiards, and camaraderie among workers, the easiest diversion for truckers was sex. Katuna is one of many towns along what is known as the Northern Transport Corridor-a span of highway that stretches from Mombasa , Kenya through Uganda , Rwanda , Burundi , Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and all the way to Djibouti .

In the past, the truckers were often delayed for days on the border, giving them little to do. Boredom--and drinking--often led to unsafe sex with commercial sex workers at the truck stops along the highway. As a result, truck drivers have one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Africa . Unfortunately, the virus doesn't stop with them, and is often spread to their spouses.

Now, thanks to the work of the Solidarity Center and Uganda 's Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU), the amount of time truckers spend on the border has been reduced from days to just hours. The union has worked with the government to reduce the amount of time it takes their paperwork to go through, which reduced the amount of free time they have on the border.  When they don't have as much free time waiting for clearance, they're not as likely to engage in unsafe sex.

Additionally, the Katuna resource center, like many others dotted along the transport corridor, offers HIV/AIDS education, and free testing to truck drivers and local community members (directly impacting more than 150,000 workers so far). The Solidarity Center has similar programs in Kenya , Tanzania , Rwanda and Burundi .

3) Helping Orphans who Lost Their Parents to AIDS, by Putting Them Through School

Outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, we visited an orphanage for children whose parents died of AIDS-related illnesses that the Solidarity Center 's partner, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), an associate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), is helping to support.

In addition to providing HIV/AIDS education and HIV counseling and testing to workers, ZCIEA is also providing a way to immediately help the children of parents who've died from the disease.

As we arrived, a hundred children were singing, clapping, and rushing to offer us hugs and high fives. The orphanage provides them not only with a place to learn and go to school, but also gives them a family in a nurturing environment. More than providing meals and a roof, the orphanage is built around the community, and the children are well-supported.

The teachers and caretakers who work there are mostly volunteers from local communities and you can see that they share a deep commitment and passion for the future of these kids. None of this would be possible without the support and efforts of the Zimbabwean labor movement in providing funding and helping to secure outside funding through grants.

Music Without Borders: Senegal
This is a weekly series where we recommend an artist, song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today's selection is from Senegal:

Mbalax is a local musical genre in Senegal; most people have heard of Youssou N'Dour, who is a major artist in that world. Here is another mbalax great, Thione Seck.

 

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Tags: Agriculture, AIDS, HIV, HIV/AIDS, Innovative, Solidarity Center, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Mbalax, Music Without Borders, Senegal, Thione Seck, Youssou N Dour, africa, innovation (all tags)

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