May 27, 2022

Dhabawalla’s, Chaiwalla’s & Mechanics Pitching for Trucker Health

Sanjib (name changed) is a long haul truck driver who, like most other truckers across the country, spends an average of 12 hours on the road – driving freight over long distances and spending months at a time on the road.  Irregular schedules, long hours, little physical activity, limited access to healthy food on the road, and stress make healthy living a challenge for long-haul truck drivers.

It’s a lonely job also.  Away from home for months on end, most truckers visit commercial sex workers on their route, fuelling the spread of STIs and HIV/AIDS among the trucking population.

To combat this, and other health issues, ACF, in collaboration with Apollo Tyres Foundation and Pernod Ricard Foundation, have established Health Care Centres (HCC) at Trucking Terminals, to provide primary healthcare services to this high risk group of the population.

Helping them, are an army of allied service providers to the trucking industry – namely local dhabawalla’s, chaiwallas, mechanics and tyrewallas – who are coming forward as volunteer Peer Educators to share information, influence behaviour and guide truckers to seek support at the HCCs.

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Peer Educators – Making a Difference

Anwar Hossain runs a local dhaba on the outskirts of Sankrail, West Bengal.  His hot, flavoursome dal makhani, along with soft rotis make his roadside restaurant a favourite among truckers, who flock there for refreshment, rest and respite.

Anwar knows his customers and he enquires after their health as he serves up thimbles of chai to the tired and weary truckers chatting about their activities for the day and generally asking them about their health.

As a volunteer Peer Educator for ACF’s Health Care Centres for Truckers, Anwar helps steer truckers to the ACF’s Health Care Centre for free health check-ups, testing and treatment referral.  “These truckers are my brothers, and loyal customers” he says.  “It’s the least I can do to help them stay fit and healthy.”

Similarly, Manan is a garage owner in Farakka West Bengal.  As a primary service provider to thousands of Truckers, Manan is part of the ‘inner circle’ in the trucking community and happily put up his hand for the job of one of ACF’s volunteer peer educators. Whilst he regularly talks to his customers about health, it was during the pandemic that he really proved his mettle. 

During the first wave of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown, more than 6 lakh truckers found themselves stranded on the roads with no supplies.  With more than 1000 trucks parked between Dhuliyan and New Farakka, most truckers faced hunger as all hotels and shops were shut and there was simply no food to eat.

Manan quickly mobilised – reaching out to the ACF team and a network of other garage workers and youth leaders of the NH34 area. Hosting a meeting at ACF’s Health Care Centre, they began making plans for the distribution of basic medicines, food and drinking water to stranded truck drivers.  Masks and sanitisers were also distributed along with basic information on COVID-19.

Manan and Anwar are just two of over 40 Peer Educators operating around trucking terminals in Sankrail & Farakka (West Bengal), Nalagarh (Himachal Pradesh) Surat (Gujarat), and Dera Bassi, Ropar (Punjab). With an average of 15-18,000 trucks stopping at these terminals on any given day, it is here that ACF has set up and operates 5 Health Care Centres.

The Crucial Role of Peer Education

Peers are volunteers who engage in the project and provide a crucial link between HCCs and truckers. A peer is one of equal standing with another, one belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade or status. The purpose of a peer is to ensure that High Risk Groups (HRGs) are reached and information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS is shared with them to bring out a positive behaviour change.

It’s an incredibly effective way of reaching communities and influencing change in community norms. Peers are knowledgeable ‘insiders’ in typical truckers’ settings, and their involvement enhances trust and communication. Peers are consequently a credible source of advice and they can be powerful role models. They also act as a link between truckers and the Health Care Centre Project, facilitating local participation.

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Promoting Health Among Truckers 

“This is a segment of the population that didn’t have any health facilities available to them – it’s a migratory population and they simply don’t have time to wait in line at government hospitals to see a doctor.  For them, time is money,” said Partha Mondal, Program Manager at ACF in Farakka. 

“Suffering huge health impacts from their occupation, along with engaging in high risk activity, this was a very needy segment of the population – but we needed to find an ‘out of the box’ way to engage with them and reach them,” said Sanjay Sharma, Area Program Manager from ACF Himachal Pradesh.

“The challenge was to mobilise them to get clinical services.  HIV/AIDS is a very private matter, and there is so much stigma attached to it, that truckers were afraid to get tested, and would shy away from even talking about it. They were more likely to talk to their peers about it” said Vinayak Sonawane, ACF’s Health Lead. 

However, by harnessing the power of trusted peer educators, word quickly spread about ACF’s Health Care Centres and footfalls began to increase.

Health Care Centres – Transforming Trucker Health & Behaviour

Over the last 5 years, ACF’s Health Care Centres have made a significant impact in the lives of over 5.48 lakh truckers. Providing a wide range of services to truckers around HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, awareness of TB, vision care, non-communicable disease, general healthcare and treatment and road safety, there have been significant changes among this migratory population.

“Truckers were hesitant to speak about health issues and were shy to talk about HIV AIDS and didn’t know the difference between the two.  Not so today – they speak freely and ask questions, coming forward to seek help and advice.” Sanjay Sharma said. “There is a stark decrease in the incidence of STIs and HIV/AIDS,” he said. 

“They also didn’t take other health issues seriously, like vision problems or diabetes – but today, these are considered serious issues and, with HCC support, are dealt with as such by them,” said Partha Mondal.

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The Way Forward

The trucking industry is one of the largest employers in India, providing a vital service to the smooth running of the country. The Indian trucking industry deploys more than 8 million drivers and 12 million helpers. According to industry experts, approximately 30 million people are directly employed by the trucking industry and more than 150 million people depend on it for their bread and butter.*

Health Care Centres and Peer Educators have immense potential among this at-risk group, and there is great scope to scale this initiative to new locations.













May 27, 2022

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