As high traffic volumes are expected on the national roads during the festive season when thousands of motorists make their way to their holiday destinations, taxi drivers are encouraged to prioritise their own health and that of their passengers.
On Monday, the Departments of Health and Transport signed a pledge with the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) to improve the taxi industry.
This formed part of the launch of the PHILA Taxi Industry Campaign, a first-ever health promotion campaign, targeted at the taxi industry to strengthen and intensify delivery of health and wellness services in the industry.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi called on taxi drivers to change unhealthy lifestyles and prioritise their health.
The Minister said most South Africans suffer from a number of diseases that are caused by unhealthy living including non-communicable disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancers.
Addressing scores of taxi drivers at Bosman taxi rank in Tshwane on Monday, the Minister spoke highly against the consumption of alcohol, sugary drinks and fatty foods. He also discouraged smoking cigarettes and abusing drugs.
He said unhealthy foods contribute to chances of getting chronic diseases that lead to death, while alcohol and drug abuse contribute to road deaths and unhealthy behaviour and increases chances of people to engage in unprotected sex.
The Minister called on citizens to think twice about compromising their health, encouraging taxi drivers to regularly go for check-ups and get tested.
Government, Minister Motsoaledi said, is looking into bringing clinics closer to taxi ranks to enable drivers to get services.
His colleague, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi also emphasised the importance of taking health seriously.
He said the taxi industry is the biggest public transporter in South Africa, transporting about 68% of employees across the country.
He called on taxi drivers to always ensure that they get enough rest, as they have the responsibility over their own and passengers' lives.
Minister Maswanganyi said municipalities need to ensure that there are ablution facilities at taxi ranks as hygiene is also a contributing threat to the lives of drivers and passengers.
Both Ministers have encouraged taxi drivers to report cases of violence and abuse of women and children to the police. They have discouraged sexual harassment which female passengers have complained about.
The launch also served as an official collaboration between the PHILA campaign and SANTACO's Operation Hlokomela [which means 'take care'], in an effort to promote and contribute towards responsible behaviour as part of the 2017 World AIDS Day focus.
While the PHILA campaign uses behavioural communication about targeted health topics to effect a positive change to people's health, Operation Hlokomela is a response from SANTACO that is aimed at reducing and eliminating preventable road accidents and care of drivers, passengers, pedestrians and the community at large.
Campaign an eye-opener
SAnews spoke to one of the taxi drivers who has been in the industry for over 15 years.
Simon Mnucbe, 37, is a long distance taxi driver who transports passengers between Tshwane and Rustenburg, and also parts of Mpumalanga province. He drives a 22-passenger carrier.
He said the campaign was an eye-opener for him because it reminded him of the importance of caring for his health and minding the health of passengers.
I now understand why we go to funerals almost every weekend. I am now aware of the top killer diseases in South Africa and they are all linked to our lifestyles. We need to change our ways, said Mncube.
He said it is time that men take the issue of HIV and AIDS seriously, adding that they should take Minister Motsoaledi's advice about getting tested regularly.
Mncube also took note of how fatigue can put people's lives in danger and cause road accidents.
We are now in the festive season. Many people are traveling to various parts of the country. The roads are busy. The driver might need to do about three or four long distance trips within 24 hours, which means he will not have enough rest, and this is one of the things leading to road deaths. So we need to work on that.
He said health challenges facing drivers are many as they transport passengers whom they do not know of their health conditions and those that are respiratory can be transmitted like Tuberculosis. Hygiene is also a factor that he felt strongly about, however he has to continue working under those circumstances to earn an income.
Source: South African Government News Agency