Tuesday, June 9, 2020

African HGV Drivers Suffer the Backlash from Covid-19 as Charity Spreads Vital Supplies

Accurate Information Lacking Across Parts of the Continent
Shipping News Feature

AFRICA – Despite all the false rumours and conspiracy theories of falling birds and 5G masts being linked to the current Covid-19 pandemic, those in Europe and America can, with a modicum of intelligence and scrutiny, read between the lines and get a reasonable idea of what is actually happening and the best ways to control the spread of the disease.

Spare a thought then for societies where tall tales and spurious rubbish rapidly assume the credibility that simple common sense would eliminate as nonsense, examples such as the spread of the Aids virus and its causes and ways to avoid it being a case in point when we are talking about certain African countries.

The latest virus caused Tanzania to close the border with Kenya to prevent drivers entering, and local press says half of Uganda’s confirmed cases were in the trucking community. This has led to drivers being persona non grata at hotels and motels and suffering abuse when they stop to use facilities. Tanzanian Customs officials have refused to inspect drivers’ documents asking them to read them out aloud instead.

Africa does not have a monopoly on ignorance about the nature of the disease however, a brief mention of the Brazilian (or indeed the US) president is called for, but the lack of decent, trustworthy communications which are available in many countries fall short in some places, and the latest information from transport and logistics charity Transaid illustrates a typical problem.

Uganda is such a country, the fact that homosexual activity can result in a life sentence will act as an indicator that society here is operating in a different cultural time zone to much of the modern world. Now facing a pandemic, ignorance of the real situation and how best to deal with it has led to many an awkward encounter for truck drivers bringing vital supplies into the country where they are often perceived as carriers of the virus.

To battle this bias Transaid has been rolling out driver specific advice and providing hand-washing facilities, cab sanitisation materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep drivers safe, reduce transmission rates and build community confidence in the safety of the logistics sector. Ignorance is the problem here and by ensuring the HGV drivers know and understand the real situation the hope is the message of correct behaviour will spread faster than the disease.

The international development organisation is working with local partners and the Employment and Skills for Development in Africa (E4D) Programme, a regional employment initiative funded by the German, Norwegian, and until recently the British government, and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The partners have been developing driver-specific factsheets as well as short information videos to be sent to drivers’ phones to raise awareness and reduce the risk of exposure.

Road safety messaging has been integrated into these materials to warn how changing conditions, such as how fewer vehicles on the roads and reduced access to facilities en route could lead to increased speeds and fewer rest stops, factors that may affect driving behaviours and increase the risk of road crashes at a time when health systems are already overburdened, and Caroline Barber, CEO of Transaid, pointed out the urgency of the situation, saying:

“We put forward a proposal which could be implemented at speed, and GIZ has worked very quickly to make the funding available. This is a fast-moving situation and we want to ensure that drivers have access to these materials without delay. Road transport is vital for delivering food, medicines and essential goods, but the race to control the outbreak in Africa means truck drivers are facing increased scrutiny whilst enduring evermore challenging and unpredictable hazards to keep supply chains running.

“Truck drivers entering the country are perceived by some to be facilitating the spread of the virus, and have faced hostility from communities and long delays at borders, often with no access to sanitation facilities. Securing this funding means we can start work immediately to improve the preparedness of drivers to meet national guidelines on the use of PPE, cab sanitisation and social distancing.

“Road transport is a sector Transaid has huge experience in, and we’re aiming to reach a minimum of 10,000 drivers in Uganda as part of our initial work. Everything we are doing is replicable in other sub-Saharan countries too, and we’re actively looking for additional funding to ensure we can extend our support and increase the number of truck drivers we can reach.”

Transaid’s in-country partner Safe Way Right Way is also supporting transport associations at driver rest stops and border posts, to help keep drivers informed on the latest national guidelines. With official advice being updated regularly, it has been difficult for employers to communicate with drivers who may be on the road for days or weeks at a time without returning to base. To help Transaid contliue its life saving worktake a look at the options via the Get Involved link on the Transaid home page.