17 May 2010
By Somit Sen
“In the past two months alone, we have covered as many as 4,000 truck drivers and cleaners,’’ said MTOA general secretary Parshuram P Katke, adding that about 15,000 to 20,000 truck drivers come to Mumbai every month. “We are conducting this project in association with the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), which is part of the Union health ministry. Our job is to convince truck drivers and cleaners to attend an orientation programme in Dana Bunder area, where they interact with a group of outreach workers from NACO.’’ The orientation is conducted twice a month, with each session being attended by nearly 1,000 drivers and cleaners.
Lavhu Bhosale, an outreach worker from NACO, said, “Our job is to dispel myths and misconceptions among drivers. We insist on the importance of using condoms and also make them aware of the various ways in which one can get infected with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In a majority of cases, drivers contract the disease during a night halt at highway dhabas.’’
The dozen–odd NACO and MTOA volunteers have to face the mammoth task of managing a huge audience while preparing a personal history chart for every driver and cleaner. They are then diagnosed by doctors who refer them to three hospitals, Sion, Kasturba and Nair, for further tests. “In the recent sessions, we counselled close to 4,000 people, of whom 757 were given primary treatment and 33 were found to be at high risk. They are being given follow–up treatment and medication,’’ Bhosale said.
The MTOA is now preparing pamphlets and educational material to distribute among truckers arriving in Mumbai. It is also informing them of the places where condoms can be procured from vending machines installed by the government. “We have a target of treating at least 5,000 drivers and cleaners by the yearend. We plan to cover as many as 20,000 truckers by next March,’’ Katke said.
“We are the only association in Maharashtra to have tied up with the RTO to provide a single window for accepting road tax from truck owners in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and Pen. And now, this is our next venture to ensure that our truckers are healthy and safe.’’