Rosanne Bonanno, Communication Manager at North Star Alliance
, explains in an interview the reasons behind the collaboration with the Drive Me Challenge and unveils some details on the final.
How did the partnership between North Star Alliance and TNT start?
TNT Express and the World Food Programme (WFP) founded North Star Alliance (North Star) as a practical response to the 2003-2005 Southern Africa food crisis. WFP had been struggling to find sufficient numbers of truck drivers to deliver relief food to hungry communities due to the impact of AIDS. Both WFP and TNT rely heavily on a healthy and vibrant transport sector, so they had a vested interest in a sustainable solution.
Together, they established a pilot roadside drop-in clinic in Malawi, at the border connecting to Mozambique. The successful pilot was just the beginning. North Star was founded in 2006 as a not-for-profit organisation whose purpose was to establish a network of clinics that would cover and connect the continent.
Today, North Star has expanded its clinical network to include 25 Roadside Wellness Centres (RWCs) in 10 countries in East and Southern Africa. About 1,000 people seek HIV counselling and testing and basic health care from our centres every day. By the end of 2012, we will have about 35 RWCs running in East, South and West Africa.
In just six years, North Star has evolved from a narrowly focused HIV prevention intervention to a comprehensive health service delivery model, which is recognised and appreciated by health authorities as a valuable contribution to national and regional public health.
What makes North Star and Drive Me good partners?
The mission of North Star Alliance is to provide mobile workers, namely truck drivers and sex workers, with sustainable access to quality health and safety services. That mission aligns with TNT’s broader social responsibility commitment to provide its own drivers with safe working conditions, as well as adequate training on road safety and fuel efficiency. It also aligns well with the purpose of the Drive Me Challenge: to educate and engage TNT drivers on the importance of road safety, driver health, fuel efficiency and excellent customer service.
What are North Star’s biggest challenges?
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected by HIV worldwide, accounting for over two-thirds (67%) of all people living with HIV and over two-thirds (68%) of AIDS-related deaths in 2010. Long-haul truck drivers, one of our primary target groups, typically have twice the HIV infection rates compared to the general population due to the nature and demands of their work. They are so frequently on the road (an average of 26 days per month) that they fail to access more conventional healthcare.
One of North Star’s biggest challenges is convincing these drivers, and other mobile populations, to safeguard their long-term health and the health of those that they come into contact with. Engaging them to access the free prevention and treatment services from one of our wellness centres is key.
As a not-for-profit, funding is also a significant challenge for North Star. The tremendous demand for our services makes it essential that we continually develop our capacity to deliver high-quality health care and information in a consistent and sustainable way. But achieving that requires committed partners who are supportive of our mission and prepared to provide financial and in-kind support.
What does North Star aim to achieve by joining Drive Me?
The work lives of most TNT drivers are not that different from African drivers. They face many of the same challenges, and enjoy many of the same joys, of being on the road. The key difference, though, is access to healthcare. In Africa, infectious diseases like HIV are incapacitating the transport workforce and the lives of those who work in busy border communities. These groups are more vulnerable to contracting and transmitting communicable diseases.
TNT drivers are in a position to understand these challenges and to help North Star’s mission by spreading the word about the importance of driver health. They can also help by safeguarding their own health both on and off the road.
Why do you think health is important for TNT drivers?
Health is important for everyone, though especially for drivers who tend to be more vulnerable to developing health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes, given the demands of their work. So awareness and prevention of health and safety on the road is an extremely important message for drivers everywhere.
What kind of expertise will North Star bring during the event?
After six years of working at the crossroads of health and mobility, North Star has developed expert knowledge in the delivery of quality health and safety services for mobile populations. We understand the challenges facing the transport workforce in Africa – many of which can be applied to other transport sectors in many other parts of the world. North Star will share that expertise with Drive Me participants during the 2012 challenge.
How will North Star take part in the final?
The North Star Alliance 40-foot model wellness centre will be integrated into the Drive Me Challenge competition in two ways:
1. A required “health stop” during the competition.
2. A multi-media exhibit following the competition.
The North Star model wellness centre will be situated on the ‘race track’ as part of the driving competition. Drivers will be required to make a “health stop” at the North Star centre and to answer several basic health-related questions. The scores of the drivers will be tabulated at the end of the challenge and shared during the award ceremony.
How are you going to test drivers’ knowledge of health?
Drivers will be tested on their health knowledge by being asked to complete several multiple choice questions during their visit to the North Star wellness centre.
What kind of answers do you expect?
I am expecting that the general level of health awareness among the Drive Me participants is quite high, given that the group represents TNT’s top-ranked drivers from around the world. So – my expectations are high!
If you could give a tip to our drivers, what would it be?
Fewer things are more important than our health. I would advise them to always safeguard their personal health by staying physically fit, eating well and having periodic medical check-ups.
What is your personal wish to the drive me participants?
My personal wish is that Drive Me participants gain a greater awareness of the importance of health and safety on the road – in a fun and engaging way – and, consequently, continue to focus on safeguarding their own health on and off the road.
Given the strong link between TNT’s business and North Star’s mission, I would also like to see TNT drivers become engaged in North Star and help spread the word about the importance of driver health.