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That drivers often buy more than tea from the female vendors was well-known but rarely talked about, until recently. Meanwhile, the staff at three health centres in the vicinity of Port Sudan's truck stations have been trained to provide voluntary counselling and HIV testing VCT. Although not a driver himself, he often talks informally to the drivers at his company while they share a meal. Relaxing in his cab at a truck station outside Port Sudan recently, Mohammed Ibrahim, who has been driving trucks for 27 years, said embarrassment would prevent most men from going to an STI clinic to ask for condoms.
None of the other drivers who gathered around as Ibrahim talked had attended any of ACORD's awareness-raising sessions. They said they knew about condoms but had never used them. Some of the women are refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea, where HIV prevalence is thought to be two or three times higher than Sudan's 1. Without the support of a husband or parents, and few jobs open to them, some turn to sex work.
Ockenden has since pulled out of eastern Sudan and the programme is now run by the Sudanese Family Planning Association. To determine which of the women were genuine tea-sellers and which were sex workers, Ockenden began its programme by recruiting women like Zainab Osman, who had moved to Port Sudan with her two children 15 years ago after leaving her husband in Northern Kordofan State in central Sudan.
She started out as a tea seller, but later sold clothes and perfume door-to-door, and came to know many other women in similar circumstances. Although a qualified nurse, she could not find work that paid enough to support her three children and eventually began selling tea, and sex, at a truck station.
But after a long period of sickness, she lost most of her regular customers and could no longer afford to keep her daughter in school. Admitting that her initial motivation for attending the training was to collect the incentive money, Habib said she was "shocked and afraid" by what she learned.