By Ruth Atim
Due to the nature of their work, long-distance truck drivers are known to be at a higher risk of acquiring and spreading infectious diseases and now considered to be contributing to the spread of COVID-19 along trucking routes. Because of this, many of them have been ridiculed and shunned.
We take a look at a story of one truck driver who has had it rough.
“My job is to transport fuel, sometimes food and other essential supplies, I drive mostly at night putting my like at risk but am being accused of carrying a virus whose origin I can’t even describe” says Mr Alex Kiberia (Not real names) who has been a truck driver on the Uganda-Mombasa route since 1997.
Alex says before departure from Mombasa, Kenyan authorities take their temperatures several times, each time the temperature reads normal, they keep testing, “it’s as if they are waiting for a high corona like temperature reading” he adds.
He narrates that trouble started when he entered Uganda. He could not stop anywhere because wherever he passed along the way, people called him Corona. What annoyed him is that people who have never tested calling him Corona yet he tested negative to corona virus several times.
Alex says that one day as he was going home, his immediate neighbors ran and locked themselves in the house, even his wife was uneasy around him. Because of that he had to go spend the night in his truck as he had become a stranger in his own home.
“This has been the worst experience i have gone through my entire life, because I couldn’t imagine my family that I work hard for shunning me”.
Alex’s colleague, Kabanga also narrates that one day he stopped by at a town just after the Busia border to stock up some supplies for himself to eat, the people nearby started shouted at him at the top of their voices that he should not go anywhere near the kiosks.
“I just stood there embarrassed and puzzled. I had no choice but to go back to my truck, hungry and drive away” Kabanga adds.
He added truck drivers are always blocked from accessing several other shops at their former stopover points for fear that they could spread the virus.
Alex and Kabanga are among the Millions of cross boarder truck drivers who have had it rough with the stigma associated with Corvid 19.
When the Corvid cases started increasing, this stigma shifted to hospitals where suspected cases were taken. People would panic and flee hospitals on hearing reports of a suspected Covid-19 case in the premises. For example, at Gulu regional referral hospital, some patients and their attendants fled on hearing that a Corvid-19 suspected case had been admitted at the facility. This stigma has also extended to the caregivers, families, relatives, and friends of Covid-19 patients. After recovery, many of them are avoided by neighbors and the people in communities.
This kind of discrimination has had a negative impact on the victims. They are treated like outsiders because even after recovery, many of them are still perceived to have a link with Covid-19, and possibly spread it to those they come into contact with.
Alex concludes that this kind of stigma, victimization and hurtful comments can affect people mentally.
“It really hurts when your own people avoid you and others accuse you of spreading a virus, just because you are truck driver.” Alex concludes.
We need to keep in mind that these truck drivers are on the road for our daily needs not because they want to, especially during this time of coronavirus. The attitude is that we need to appreciate what they are doing. They have put their lives at risk, away from their families and loved ones just to make sure that we have the goods we need.
Stigmatizing them is not appropriate at all. Its inhumane.
Ruth Atim is a Ugandan based journalist and works with Refugee and Migration Media Network (Refugee Online News-RON)