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Condom shortage places Mpumalanga sex workers, truckers at risk

A rise in STI cases and HIV diagnoses in Mpumalanga was possibly a result of a two-month shortage of condoms at a truck stop wellness clinic last year, with staff saying truck drivers and sex workers are among those suffering the fallout, although the full consequences remain to be seen.

The Komatipoort truck stop near the border between Mpumalanga and Mozambique is home to the roadside wellness clinic run by Trucking Wellness, a primary healthcare delivery system for those employed in the road freight and logistics industry, and where staff distribute free condoms and provide condom-use education and screening for STIs, HIV, TB and malaria, among other services.

Blessing Mahlalela, a clinic co-ordinator at the site, told the Daily Maverick that the first condom shortage was in June last year.

“We still don’t have enough condoms. We used to get maybe 15, 20 boxes of cartons. But now, sometimes you get the one (box), because they supply just the hospitals, not the clinics,” he said.

One nurse at the Komatipoort clinic said the people on whom she runs health tests are often dependent on free condoms and will forgo using the protection if the free contraceptives are not available.

The Mpumalanga Health Department said the shortage was due to suppliers not receiving enough stock from the manufacturers outside the country.

Campaigns to address the shortage using a “sharing strategy” were implemented between July and August. The department assessed the availability and supply of condoms from one facility to another, and shared stock among different facilities to address the lack of supply, it said.

Rise in STIs

The nurse at the Komatipoort clinic told the Daily Maverick that the combination of increased trucking traffic and a condom shortage had led to an increase in STI and HIV cases.

“We are seeing a lot of STIs because people are not wearing condoms. We can’t be sure if it’s because of the shortage or (because) people are being negligent… but on our side, we assume it’s the condoms (shortage).”

The Komatipoort stop has seen an increase in trucking traffic since 2020, which Mahlalela believes is due to truck strikes at Richards Bay. “The truck numbers are higher and higher. So the number of sex workers at night increases too,” he said.

“That’s influenced the increase of STIs… we’re seeing a big number of people with STIs due to the number of truck drivers and the shortage or lack of condoms since June.”

Trucking Wellness has not been able to show a definitive increase in STIs and HIV cases among Mpumalanga truck drivers because of the condom shortage, said Tertius Wessels, managing director of Corridor Empowerment Project, which manages the Trucking Wellness programme for the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry.

“(We) will only be able to determine this at a later stage when drivers present with symptoms, usually (after) 8 to 12 weeks, depending on how quickly they seek healthcare. So being able to identify them this early would be difficult,” he said.

“Our opinion is that (the condom shortage) would have had a definite impact as this is a high transmission area and we cannot afford not to ensure availability of basics like condoms – which will lead to a possible increase of HIV infections among drivers and sex workers.”


Daily Maverick article – Mpumalanga condom shortage puts health of truckers and sex workers at risk (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Contraception shortages are failing South African women – Stop Stockout Report


Birth control stockouts remain a problem in SA


Self-testing improves uptake among sex workers


SA’s radical plan to tackle HIV in sex workers


Health Department and SABS reassure over government-issue condoms





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