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Bringing health care to the forecourt
South Africa has the world’s largest HIV population and around 340,000 more people are infected each year. Many of those with HIV may be afraid to go for tests. Now a new scheme that brings mobile clinics to Shell service station customers and staff is helping to make such tests more easily available.
Melanie Theologou manages a Shell service station in Durban, South Africa. She knows her staff are dedicated, but she used to wonder why some of them so often called in sick, or stayed at home to look after their children.
“Eventually I found out that a lot of these people and their families were suffering from tuberculosis (TB) because they are HIV positive,” says Melanie. “I wanted to help.”
Mobile clinics at Shell service stations offer convenient health care to customers and staff
Portia, for example, joined Melanie’s team around 15 years ago and works as a human resources manager. In 2007 she started to complain of tiredness, flu and mouth sores. Melanie recognised the symptoms and took her to the local clinic, where she tested HIV positive.
“I felt so bad when they told me,” says Portia. “But then I wanted to educate myself and learn how to treat the symptoms.”
Melanie believes that many sufferers are too worried about the results of a test to go to a clinic. Others, like the truck drivers who fill up at her station, claim they do not have time. “I thought that if these people won’t go to the clinic, we could bring the clinic to them.”
In 2009, on Shell’s annual day to promote health and safety at work, Melanie arranged for a mobile clinic to visit her service station. To encourage people to step forward, she took the first HIV test. Over the course of the following year the clinic visited 16 more sites. In all, around 700 customers and staff followed Melanie’s example.
A healthy future
The mobile clinics offer HIV counselling as well as tests. Results are confidential. Those who test positive are referred to their local clinic for anti-retroviral drugs and care. Doctors advise them on how to stay as healthy as possible with medication and good nutrition. And they learn how to use condoms to help limit the spread of the virus.
During 2011 a pilot scheme has been under way at more Shell service stations across South Africa. It uses a private clinic and also offers tests for TB, blood pressure, anaemia, cholesterol and sugar levels. This helps to remove some of the perceived stigma around testing only for HIV.
A pilot health care programme offers tests for TB, blood pressure, anaemia, cholesterol and sugar levels as well as for HIV.
Shell shares the cost of the tests with service station owners and works in partnership with the South African Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS to run the scheme. In the first month, the partners arranged for on-site testing at 28 service stations nationwide and tested 424 employees and customers. Shell staff are now promoting the scheme more widely.
Thanks to the medication she takes, combined with good nutrition and support, Portia is doing well. In her spare time she is studying to become a social worker. “In future I want to help others like myself,” she says.