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Battling the HIV scourge in taxi ranks

Keiso Mohloboli

Public transport operators in Maseru have engaged in major step to fight the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

In a recent initiative, the taxi operators in the capital partnered with the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, Population Services International and Ministry of Health to drive the HIV and AIDS response in the public transport industry.

The partnership, according to Lebohang Moea of the Maseru Region Taxi Operator, seeks to broaden HIV and AIDS awareness in the taxi industry.

Moea said following the launch of the Manonyane Bus Stop Clinic, which is an initiative by the Ministry of Health to address issues of HIV and AIDS specifically for the taxi operators in town, they saw it fit to now partner with relevant authorities “to drive the message and as a response in the fight against the pandemic”.

Manonyane Bus Stop Clinic was launched by the ministry in August last year to provide, among others, testing, counselling and treatment services to the taxi operators freely. Other related diseases are also tested and treated by the facility, exclusively to the operators.

The clinic serves a number of taxi ranks scattered in town, namely Sefika, Lepoqong, Manonyane, Metro, ’Marakeng and Pitso Ground.

According to Moea, before establishment and operationalisation of the clinic, taxi operators used to seek sick leaves on monthly basis “without even opening up on their problems to their bosses. This affected good relations between employees and employers because it means the work was compromised and is the revenue generation”.

But since the launch of the clinic, Moea says taxi operators have changed: “They access medical services from there while queuing at the rank. The knowledge they get there makes it easy for them to communicate their HIV status with owners as well, which never happened before”.

Moea added there was an urgent need for another bus stop clinic “because long distance operators from the regions of South and North also seek services from Manonyane Bus Stop Clinic, creating congestion”.

He pleaded with the health ministry and all other relevant stakeholders to consider opening the second mobile clinic to Maseru ranks to avoid overcrowd.

He said they would appreciate if the ministry could also install clinics for the taxi operators in the districts.

Meanwhile, Tankiso Ralethoko, a 32-year year old taxi operator, openly revealed his HIV positive status with MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism and how the clinic has changed his life.

“I originally come from Semena in Thaba-Tseka and currently a Ha-Mabote resident. I previously had difficulties of talking openly about HIV to avoid discrimination. But ever since this clinic opened everything seem to be easy,” said Ralethoko.

He said he appreciated the fact that counsellors, doctors and nurses at the clinic communicated issues clearly in Sesotho, the language every taxi operator understood.

“I no longer get frustrated when I have to go for my medical check-ups. In the past I used to attend my treatment sessions in Thaba-Tseka every three months.

“This caused a lot of inconvenience for me as I had to always make prior arrangements such as finding a replacement person to do my job during my absence. I also had to dig deep into my pocket for long trips just to go there and receive my ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment).

“Today, that is history. I go to Manonyane Bus Stop Clinic for my treatment. I meet with my colleagues there and we are able to discuss our health challenges and get medical opinion from professionals for free.

“From a lot of money that I used to spend by travelling to Thaba-Tseka every three months, I am now able to buy appropriate food to improve my state of health,” Ralethoko said.

The Centre has learnt that authorities from the health ministry have also been weaving in the busy Maseru taxi ranks monitoring and analysing the state of HIV and AIDS in the streets.

Speaking to the Centre, the health minister Nkaku Kabi has said it is the mandate of the ministry to bring primary healthcare services to the communities “hence the move to bring clinical services to the bus stops”.

Kabi said the Manonyane clinic was intended to meet public transport operators halfway “so that they are able to go for health services during the course of their duties in the bus stops. It is the ministry’s main mandate to deliver services to the nation and ensure that nothing disturbs their daily work in any way”.

Kabi therefore, urged both health workers and the community receiving health services from Manonyane to work towards ensuring that the initiative is a success.

“EGPAF and PSI will work together to provide HIV and AIDS services at the clinic including testing, counselling and support services for clients,” the minister said.

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