Paul Matthew has been a driving force in the fight against HIV/Aids in the road freight industry for almost two decades, facilitating the establishment of over 22 wellness centres along Africa’s major trucking routes. FOCUS chats to Matthew about his latest project, the North Star Alliance.
Give us a brief overview of your history with HIV/Aids and the world of trucking.
I have worked with a number of local bodies to address the problem of HIV/Aids in the trucking industry. These include the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight Industry, the Road Transport Industry Training Board, the Learning Clinic and North Star Alliance. All together, I have led a team that has been instrumental in the establishment of over 22 wellness centres along Africa’s major trucking routes.
I recently left my position as chief executive officer of Ikaheng HR Services to take up the full-time position of director: Africa at North Star Alliance.
Why the move to North Star Alliance?
In four years, North Star Alliance has set up 11 wellness centres across Africa – which is a significant achievement, given the fact that many of these centres are in remote areas. The need for these centres is vital and the support from industry for them is phenomenal. For North Star Alliance to meet its ambitious targets and make sure that our drivers have the facilities they so desperately need as they travel through Africa, North Star Alliance has now created a full-time position within the organisation for a director in Africa, which I was obviously extremely interested in.
How successful has North Star Alliance been in establishing its African footprint?
Well, we currently have wellness centres in 12 countries across Africa, including Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Mombasa, Mlolongo and Salgaa in Kenya; Mwanza in Malawi; Mozambique and Botswana; Walvis Bay in Namibia; Magerwa in Rwanda; Oshoek Border Post in Swaziland; Port of Dar es Salaam and Tunduma in Tanzania; Malaba in Uganda; Chirundu North in Zambia; and Chirundu South and Beitbridge in Zimbabwe.
Several more wellness centres are scheduled to come online in the coming months, particularly in East Africa. Countries that we are specifically targeting are those in West Africa.
North Star Alliance has some exciting and innovative projects planned. Tell us about one of them, COMETS.
COMETS stands for North Star’s Corridor Medical Transfer System, and links all our wellness centres together, so that as drivers move from one town to the next, their patient records move with them. COMETS records prescriptions, dispensations and referrals to other health service providers. A full medical history of the individual is therefore available instantly at each of our centres. This enables us to track that individuals follow through with their treatment and that they derive maximum benefit from the services we offer.
Drivers are also issued with “health passports”, which they keep with them on their journeys.
COMETS has additional strategic benefits for the industry as well. Through COMETS, North Star Alliance can collect corridor-wide information on disease developments. We plan to analyse disease patterns along each corridor and eventually even on a regional basis. This information will be extremely useful for local stakeholders and can be used in identifying disease outbreaks and in health programme planning.
Although the fight against HIV/Aids continues, other diseases are also threatening the wellbeing of our drivers.
What action plan does North Star Alliance have to include these in its interventions?
In addition to addressing the HIV/Aids pandemic, North Star Alliance has identified three other main priority focus areas – malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and diabetes. Malaria and TB cause more deaths than HIV/Aids. Malaria is the single-largest killer in Africa, with 400 million new cases being reported each year, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 10 million people in Africa have diabetes.
All these diseases need to be tackled at the same time. Our wellness centres are equipped to deal with all of these illnesses.
A focus on driver training is also on the cards. What does North Star Alliance have planned and why the focus on training?
Driver wellness extends far beyond the physical health of drivers. Road safety has become a major public health and preventative medicine challenge. The wellness centres provide an ideal location for drivers to receive training on various aspects, such as road safety and driver training skills. We aim to start rolling out our training programme in 2010.
Are we making progress in combating HIV/Aids in our industry?
Absolutely! Figures from our wellness centres show that there is a definite reduction in the treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This shows that drivers and sex workers are using more condoms. If both the driver and sex worker are STI free, there is likely to be a reduction in their susceptibility to HIV infection. The project is making an impact, both in terms of cheaper service and longer life.
The Solidarity Fund is the latest project of North Star Alliance – what is it all about?
The Solidarity Fund is a mechanism to ensure that we can sustain our wellness centres. To date, our donors have funded the setting up of these centres, but we need to ensure that there is ongoing funding to maintain the continued operation of our centres. The Solidarity Fund – which will be launched early next year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – will enable this.
Investors interested in promoting the health of truckers and supply chains can buy shares in the fund at US$3.50/share (R28), which is the average cost per visitor at a North Star Wellness Centre when running at full capacity of 45 people per day.
Basically, one share is equivalent to giving one trucker or transport community member access to health services. But the Solidarity Fund is not just another “fund-and-forget” model. It is based on the three pillars of social investing, which are transparency, demand driven and performance based.
What are North Star Alliance’s future goals and plans?
By 2014, we aim to have a network of 50 wellness centres on the African continent, all linked to COMETS, providing reliable and affordable health care to mobile populations. Our services will also be broadened to include safety, driver training and skills development.
We also want to broaden the support of our wellness centres across Africa. Currently, it is mainly donors and operators based in South Africa that fund and support the project. This needs to be broadened to include manufacturers and suppliers, as well as operators outside of South Africa’s borders.
Through greater involvement of the road freight industry, our wellness centres will become self-funding and sustainable. The end result of this will be healthy, productive drivers which keep the wheels of Africa’s economy turning.
North Star Alliance was established in November 2006 by commercial logistics provider TNT and the United Nations World Food Programme. In 2007, the group of core supporters was expanded to include the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and UNAIDS. In 2009, the group again expanded to include systems developer ORTEC as the newest core partner.
North Star Alliance’s core supporters give it unparalleled knowledge of and access to the companies and trade unions that drive the commercial and humanitarian transport sector. Through in-kind donations (short and long term) of key personnel and local support facilities, they also provide the foundation with the expertise and capacity to build and manage tailor-made distribution networks. Thus, North Star Alliance has been able to quickly combine cutting-edge management techniques and technology with comprehensive knowledge of local and regional conditions and key players.