With peer education and support, a truck driver in Zambia ensures he won't spread HIV
There was a time when Arthur Mbewe engaged in sexual relationships outside of his marriage. The 47-year-old admits it. As a long-distance lorry driver for a construction firm, he spends most of his time hauling building materials across Zambia, away from his wife and children in Kayosha, in Chibombo District. His nights, often passed in the cab of his truck pulled over on the side of the Great North Road, one of Zambia’s main transport arteries, can be lonely.
Bored and with cash on hand, he used to turn to commercial sex workers, as many long-distance drivers do. This has unfortunately meant the spread of HIV.
In February, Susan Nakombe, a peer educator with the USAID-funded Zambia Community HIV Prevention Project (USAID Z-CHPP), approached Arthur while he was sitting idle in his truck. She was accompanied by Felistus Kasonde, one of 345 lay counselors working across Zambia under USAID Z-CHPP. Susan engaged Arthur in a sensitive conversation about sexual health and steps he could take to lower his risk for HIV. Arthur agreed to be tested. He’d been suffering from a rash, and his conversation with Susan led him to wonder if HIV was the cause.
Arthur tested positive, and his thoughts immediately turned to his wife and family. How could he break the truth to them, and how would they manage after he was gone? Felistus, however, carefully explained to Arthur that by beginning antiretroviral therapy, or ART, and adopting healthy behavior, he could still live a long and productive life.
“The counseling really helped me to restore my confidence in life,” Arthur recalls. “Felistus accompanied me to Kayosha Health Centre, where I started taking ART in May 2018.”
On Felistus’s advice, Arthur informed his wife of his status and encouraged her to be tested as soon as possible. Her result came out negative. She has stood by Arthur and supported him to live healthily by adhering to his treatment, following a healthy diet and refraining from sex with other women. They have had to adjust by adopting consistent condom use. Arthur admits he struggled with it at first, but now he’s used to it.
Today, Arthur shares his story with others and encourages them to be tested, including a younger cousin who was disguising his illness but is now healthy and adhering to ART.
USAID Z-CHPP is a five-year USAID cooperative agreement being implemented by Pact and partners to reduce new HIV infections in Zambia. The project has a package of combination prevention activities in 14 districts across five provinces, selected due to their high HIV burden.
Arthur’s name was changed for this story.