Indian Truck Drivers Who Carry More than Cargo

Outside a small blue-painted clinic in Tughluqabad, India, a group of truck drivers are queuing for treatment. They all have STDs. Several may be HIV-positive, although the chances are that they have no idea they are infected. The clinic is next to a cement factory on the outskirts of Delhi. Behind it is one of India's largest container depots, where a vast mobile population of truckers gather every afternoon before driving off into the night.

"A lot of truck drivers frequent prostitutes. We are away from home a lot," admitted one 21-year-old driver, Kilas, who was waiting to see the clinic's doctor. "The going rate for sex is 50-100 rupees ($1-2). I've been working as a truck driver for two years. I earn 10,000 rupees ($207) a month, so visiting prostitutes is not expensive," he said. Was he worried about HIV? "I know nothing about it. God saves me from all that," he added.

Since the first case of HIV was diagnosed in India in 1986, the disease has spread dramatically. It has traveled from cities such as Bombay, Chennai (Madras) and Bangalore along India's truck roads and into the countryside. Most drivers are unwilling to use condoms -- or do not know how to put one on. Levels of sexual ignorance remain huge. AIDS campaigners in India estimate that out of the 4 million people who are HIV-positive, around half a million are truck drivers. When truck drivers return home they often pass HIV on to their monogamous wives.

Due to high levels of poverty in India, prostitutes invariably agree to have unprotected sex in return for a little extra money. Migrant laborers and drug users, especially in northeastern states close to Burma, have also contributed to the epidemic. "The majority of truck drivers don't know how to use a condom," said the clinic's doctor, Rajneesh Sikri. "They complain that it puts them off."

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