I was sure SOMEbody on this thread mentioned the role of truckers ...
Can't find back who it was, but I was reminded of the mention when I read the chapter on Thailand in the book I'm reading now, Robert Kaplan's The Ends of the Earth
. Apparently, truckers can and do play a role of immense impact in the rapid spread of AIDS.
Which also happens to underline, again, how the reasons why AIDS has spread so very quickly in developing countries are strongly related to the initial impact of modernisation
there. Rather than to any remaining 'primitive tribalness' of the area in question or anything of that sort, that is.
The quotes (this was in 1994 - emphases mine):
"The prevalence of AIDS and HIV-positive cases is a trend that can change almost overnight. [..] In mid-1988, 0 percent of the low-fee prostitutes in Chiang Mai [a city in Northwestern Thailand] were HIV-positive. In mid-1989, 44 percent were. All it takes is a few new people in the area to change the picture. [..]"
[..] Bennett provides this frightening anecdote: "Samastipur in the northeastern state of Bihar is a junction point for the Nepal-India-Bangladesh trade route, connecting Kathmandu with Calcutta and Dacca. Around 1,400 truckers pass through each day. The sex workers there are mainly illiterate and have no familiarity with condoms. Because a clinic in Calcutta has found that at least 8 percent of these truckers are HIV-positive, we calculate that 36 percent of the prostitutes at Bihar truck stops are. Most HIV in the world is spread by land travel, by good roads. It is a disease of modernization that may slowly bring us to our knees."
Smooth-paved roads, like those in Thailand, shrink distances and foster national unity and public order, as well as increase the flow of human vectors for sexually transmitted diseases. (Perhaps all that holds the Ivory Coast together is its modern road network, which also accounts for its high incidence of AIDS).
"Truckers are the sailors of today, with a girl in every port," says an AIDS counsellor in South Africa in an IPS report
. And trekking as they do from country to country, they make national approaches to the disease harder, while at the same time introducing the illness to ever new communities.
It is now widely recognized that there is a strong relationship between population movements and the spread of HIV/AIDS in West Africa. This phenomenon typically involves men - particularly seasonal workers and long-haul truck drivers - who travel long distances, often across borders, as part of their work or in search for better opportunities. These men usually "move" without bringing their spouses and, hence, find themselves exposed to multiple encounters with sexual partners. Upon return to their home communities, those infected [..] are very likely to spread the AIDS virus, albeit unknowingly, among their spouses [..].
But on the bottom line, these truckers are just faster-moving appearances of the wider phenomenon of migrant workers in newly modernized Africa. Just like Kaplan noted, in Thailand, how "Migrant laborers come from all over the surrounding provinces to work in Nong Khai [..] So many people are migrating - from Nong Khai to Bangkok, from farming villages to Nong Khai", thus in Africa villagers, driven by hunger & hope, trek to towns, and people in towns to the big cities - whether for good, or to work there for a few months and then return. Sub-Saharan Africa's urbanization rates in the 1980s were among the world's highest.
Considering how these migrant workers find shelter in their new (temporary) home towns, these are ideal conditions for (sexual) disease to spread. Take the miners in South Africa:
Workers under contract with mining companies who live most of the year in single-sex compounds without their families remain prone to sexually-transmitted diseases [..] "mine workers in South Africa [..] come from every nation in Southern Africa. These men are away from their homes for eleven months of the year. They have sex with professional women who hang around workers hostels. These liaisons lead to infections."
(from same IPS report).
It seems that AIDS happened to hit Africa at the most vulnerable time of its development. Namely exactly at that point in time, where modernisation (urbanisation) has already succeeded in causing large-scale social and physical dislocation, but where it has not resulted in the increased prosperity that then settles people down again.
Kinda comparable to the period of the Industrial Revolution in the West, perhaps, when the booming cities attracted masses of villagers, who initially however, merely formed a volatile proletariat in city slums - away from the village traditions, and not yet integrated in new social structures. And dirt-poor.
The drastic unevenness of economic development in Africa (and the developing world in general) means that everywhere, there are now both enough starving women and enough men with money to spend to keep the cycle going - and those men would also be the ones most likely to have travelled (and thus transmitted the disease). "Every starving girl knows she can get a meal in exchange for sex with a trucker". (Even The Trucker
writes about it