The Motorcycle Rider's Story: Behind the Scenes with ABC's 20/20 in Lesotho
January 4, 2011
, who traverses Lesotho’s
mountains on horseback carrying medical supplies, is one part of a crucial delivery team providing HIV services to some of the most isolated villages in the country – a country with the third-highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.
The Foundation also partners with another international organization, Riders for Health
, which uses motorcycles to reach remote areas with health care.
Thuso's work with the Foundation through Riders for Health takes him to remote posts throughout the
Mokhotlong District in Lesotho (Photo: USAID)
I was introduced to one of these riders – a young and devout Rastafarian with a good sense of humor named Thuso Kanare – who was also featured on ABC’s 20/20 program on global health
The process of providing HIV services to those most in need in this part of Lesotho requires close coordination and management of some challenging logistics.
Thuso usually waits at the Mapholaneng Red Cross clinic for Potso to return from his four-hour roundtrip journey into the mountains, where he drops off medical supplies and collects blood samples that must be tested within 6 hours of being drawn. Potso passes off the blood samples to Thuso, who then transports them by motorbike the final 30 kilometers to the district hospital in Mokhotlong for testing.
Altogether, this journey between the two men can take up to a full working day, depending on the weather and road conditions.
When the roads are passable for motorbikes, Thuso is also a regular presence at the remote clinics where the tests are administered.
“I often go around to the clinics to motivate and support the team of HIV counselors I work with,” Thuso told me.
Also an HIV counselor by profession, Thuso knows too well the importance of timely testing in the treatment and care of people living with HIV.
Thuso visits clinics both as a motorcycle health courier and as an HIV counselor (Photo: USAID)
Some of the blood samples they deliver are used to confirm the results of rapid HIV tests that are administered at the mountain clinics. This is particularly important for pregnant women, to determine whether they need to receive antiretroviral drugs to protect their babies from HIV.
For patients who are known to be HIV-positive, the blood samples are also used to determine the strength of their immune systems through CD4 counts. A low count is one of the determining factors in when to start a patient on treatment.
For a pregnant mother, her CD4 count will determine whether she needs to start treatment for her own health, in addition to taking drugs to prevent transmission of HIV to her baby. Mokhotlong has the only hospital in the area with a CD4 machine to conduct these important tests.
Other vitally important samples are dried blood spots taken from infants. These blood spots are used to test babies and very young children for HIV. Getting timely results are critical. Sadly, without treatment, most children with HIV won’t live to see their second birthdays.
“The work we do is beyond an eight-to-five job,” Thuso said. “There are not enough motorbikes to cater to all the needs of the district hospital. We are always on stand-by in case of any delivery that needs to be done, from Sunday to Sunday.”
There is no doubt that this is more than a job for both Potso and Thuso. They believe in what they do. The potential to prevent any more children from being infected with HIV is something that motivates them to wake up early and go to sleep late.
I watched Thuso speed off onto the highway from the Mapholaneng clinic, maneuvering sharp corners with his backpack full of blood samples, while the ABC crew was filming the ride. The crew strapped a camera to his bike, and at one point, our intrepid cameraman Craig even stood through our speeding vehicle’s sunroof, filming Thuso riding behind us.
Cameraman Craig Matthew takes a ride on the back of Thuso's motorcycle to
film the journey from his perspective. (Photo: EGPAF)
Watching Thuso’s journey, it was clear that he enjoys what he does, despite the difficulties.
“There are many hazards to this job,” he said. “Other motorists squeeze us off the roads, and sometimes we get into accidents while riding on sandy terrain. But we have to help our community overcome the tragedy of HIV.”
He made it safely on this trip to Mokhotlong district hospital, as he usually does. We were there to watch him deliver the blood samples to the lab technicians with an hour to spare.
I left Mokhotlong with great respect for Potso and Thuso. They endure difficult conditions and long hours, all to help their community.
And the results of those tests, which Potso will take back up the mountain, will help keep that community healthy and safe from HIV.
Eric Kilongi is the Foundation’s Regional Communications Officer, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Foundation works closely in Lesotho with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and USAID through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The Foundation also relies on the support of private donors to achieve a generation free of HIV. You can join our efforts to eliminate pediatric AIDS – click here to find out how