Cross-border truck drivers stigmatized

Truck drivers delivering essential goods are being accused of spreading Covid in Namibia.

19 June 2020 | Infrastructure

Inspector Illeni Shapumba, “Instead of stigmatizing them, we should be sympathizing with them…”

Walvis Bay • [email protected]

Cross-border truck drivers are facing immense criticism and stigmatization due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to a few truck drivers, they all shared the same sentiment of being accused of having brought the virus into the country.

However, the contrary is true: Thus far only one truck driver has tested positive for Covid-19 in Namibia. He is Case 21 and he remains in stable condition with no symptoms. He is still in an isolation facility in Walvis Bay.

“We risk our lives to ensure that shop shelves are stocked. In doing so we have to spend weeks away from our families. The thanks we get is being shunned by locals,” one of the aggrieved truck drivers said.

According to Edward Shivute of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) Namibia is not a research oriented country. “In other countries, they use research to make decisions and to mitigate perceptions.”

He said that in comparison to other countries, positive cases among truck drivers here is negligible, translating to around a 9 to 10% Covid-19 infection rate amongst truck drivers. “This data can help us mitigate the negative effects of stigma attached to our truck drivers.”

Shivute said it is misperception that due to the nature of their work, truck drivers cross borders and interact with colleagues from Zambia and South Africa, which are considered to be high risk countries.

“We need to look at the data available and we need to re-strategize to implement strategies that will reduce the stigma attached to our drivers.”

Look at the facts

He begged community members not to stigmatize truck drivers.

“There are facts, perceptions, and people’s opinions. The facts show us that a very low percentage of truck drivers are currently infected with Covid-19 compared to the general population. If we have to use data to make a decision, then our truck drivers are not among those classified as high risk. It is only due to the nature of their work that they are viewed as high risk.”

Shivute emphasised that truck drivers are consistently screened and tested, at facilities such as the temporary truck port in Walvis Bay.

“The ministry of health took a decision that all our drivers, whether it is a local or cross-border driver, be tested and afforded the same safety measures as everyone else. We should rather let the available data guide our perceptions.”

According to Shivute, the stigma affects drivers psychologically and will result in resignations. “We will have more drivers developing mental illnesses and experiencing issues with their families. These issues can easily escalate into something else.”

Shivute reminded the public that drivers have families.

“We are keeping them on the road because we need daily necessities. The essence is that we need to appreciate what our drivers are doing, risking their lives just to make sure that we have the goods we need.”

Inspector Illeni Shapumba, the head of community affairs for the region, also called on the public to stop stigmatizing cross border truck drivers.

“We should rather be sympathizing with them. They are placed in quarantine for 14 days for the sake of their health and the communities they operate in.”