19 January 1999

Aids On The Road

The phenomenon of long distance truckers spreading the HIV infection has been well documented in Africa (the Kinshasa Highway) and in Thailand. In this week's BMJ, Kootikuppala Surya Rao and colleagues from the Child Foundation of India report that the sexual behaviour of long distance truckers in India plays a fundamental role in spreading HIV infection throughout the country, in a short period of time.

The researchers found that during journeys, truckers stop at "dhabas", which are roadside hotels which usually provide food, rest, sex workers, alcohol and drugs. The truckers pick up women here and then drop them at the next dhaba along their route, where they are then picked up by other truckers or locals and so on and so forth. Truckers have an HIV infection rate of ten per 1000 which is far higher than the national Indian average of approximately 0.5 per 1000.

Dr Rao and colleagues found that men over 40 years were particularly vulnerable and the potential for transmission of sexual diseases by the group is most threatening. They conclude that condom use should be promoted along truck routes by distributing them freely along national highways in condom dispensers. They also suggest further research to find effective strategies to persuade truckers to change their hazardous sexual behaviour.