UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2009 / 1020 - Truck Drivers Get Tested for HIV

Truck Drivers Get Tested for HIV

By Judith Santiago

October 20, 2009—“I never thought this could happen to me,” said Hari, a truck driver from Mathura, India. Hari learned he was HIV positive while at a restaurant stop in Mursan, India. He is now counted among the 33 million people infected with the HIV virus.

As World AIDS Day, December 1 draws near, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is recognizing the work made possible through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, which supports education, testing, prevention, and counseling programs for people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Although restaurant stops or dhabas, as it is known locally, may seem to be an unusual place for HIV testing, these dhabas have become ideal locations for educating vulnerable individuals and communities about HIV/AIDS.

For many truck drivers like Hari, roadside dhabas are a solace. They offer a traditional home-style ambience and meals where drivers can eat well, rest, bathe, and sleep after a long day’s journey. While food and rest is available to weary travelers, drugs and sex are also offered—placing many drivers at-risk of contracting the deadly HIV virus.

Small, poor communities surround the dhaba where Hari received testing. Vulnerable women work as prostitutes to support themselves and their families. Some of the women are encouraged by their own husbands to offer themselves as a way to bring money into the household.

Testing is Encouraged

Through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund-supported Dhaba Project, a program of the Methodist Public Health Center in Mursan, India, 6,000 truck drivers receive pre- and post HIV testing and treatment, education on AIDS prevention, and counseling support services. The Dhaba Project brings HIV/AIDS awareness to temporarily stationed drivers, motivates them to get tested, helps them to overcome fear or stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and educates drivers on prevention.

“Since HIV has spread faster along the highway, we have started to work close to the oil refinery,” related Reidun Refsdal, director of the Methodist Public Health Center in a report to UMCOR. “The village close to this (oil refinery) is very badly infected.”

Not Alone

After being tested for the HIV virus, Hari was encouraged to visit the Methodist Public Health Center to perform more blood work. Hari brought his family along with him and they also received HIV testing. Hari’s wife tested positive for the virus. Thankfully, their four year-old son is not infected.

“For me and my family it would have been very difficult if I had not been tested by the Dhaba Project,“ said Hari. “We would have been all alone, and this would have been very difficult.”

After Hari’s diagnosis was confirmed, the Methodist Public Health Center gave him regular antiretroviral treatments. Today, Hari and his wife are not alone with their disease. They have joined a monthly support group, where others like them share their experiences, and strengthen and encourage one another to live positively with HIV/AIDS.

Serving Others with HIV

Deepak is a former truck driver from Northern India. When the roadside Dhaba Project team tested and found him to be HIV positive, they counseled and referred him for treatment.

“During my trips, I used to visit commercial sex workers. After one and a half years, I felt my health was not good.”

“Even though my wife and I are both HIV-positive, we live a very normal life. We want to be an example for others,” says Deepak.

During his treatment, Deepak met a young woman who was also HIV-positive. They got married and decided not to have children. Instead, Deepak is devoting his extra time in serving others by working in a community care center for people infected with HIV.

“Even though my wife and I are both HIV-positive, we live a very normal life. We want to be an example for others,” says Deepak.

Spreading the Word About HIV Testing

Because of the Dhaba Project, surrounding communities in Mursan are fast becoming aware of HIV/AIDS and its spread. At first, owners of the dhabas were scared of the testing being performed at their site. They believed it would affect their business negatively. But now, the owners are joining the cause by encouraging the men to get tested for the HIV virus. The Dhaba Project also discreetly provides drivers with condoms.

The Dhaba Project team is reaching more and more people and has started a women’s club and youth club—educating different generations and empowering individuals to respect their bodies and take care of their health. Many individuals are learning prevention strategies and how they can help educate others.

United Methodist Global AIDS Fund

The United Methodists Global AIDS Fund is working toward an AIDS-free world. Since 2005, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund supports 155 AIDS-related projects in 33 countries throughout Asia, Latin American, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Fund, established at the 2004 General Conference to raise $8 million dollars, is helping eradicate this deadly disease through prevention, education, counseling and community outreach programs.

How to Give

Your gifts to projects like these are raising awareness and stopping the spread of this deadly disease. Help others like Hari and his wife, or Deepak learn about prevention, care and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Put a stop to HIV/AIDS through your gifts to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345. Online Giving

*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications