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The motorcycle courier, a vital link between community, clinic and laboratory

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“I am so proud of the work, because I do a job that helps people to get treated, before they get worse.“

Six years ago, Charles Tarovedzera rode motorbikes for a security company. He was drawn to work for The Union because he saw people around him suffering from TB, and he wanted to help. Since then, he has been a motorcycle rider for The Union in Harare, Zimbabwe, transporting specimens from local clinics to laboratories at two hospitals across the city.

In 2010, The Union established a partnership with Riders for Health in Zimbabwe to use motorcycle couriers. These dedicated couriers take specimens from health centres or clinics on a regular basis and transport them in a professional, consistent, safe and controlled manner to laboratories. They then promptly return the results to the clinic, allowing for early treatment and faster follow-up with individual patients.

“It’s very important to use a motorbike to collect the samples. With a motorcycle it’s faster than using a motorcar. With a motorcycle, traffic jams are not a problem. So you can transport the samples in time” Charles says.

Couriers are trained in how to handle and transport samples. Before the programme, many samples used to be ruined by lengthy storage, or in transit. Charles says, “You can only take two hours to get the sample back. After two hours they can be too old for culture. Then they can’t be processed in a way that would give good results in the lab. So speed is very important. Without the results, the patient wouldn’t be able to get treatment.“

Charles rides 90 km per day, facing potholes and busy traffic. Samples must make it to the laboratory quickly to be of use, but the riders ensure that whatever problems they face, the samples always make it on time. “If we didn’t [get the sample there on time], the patient would have to come back for another sample. But that is not a problem we have ever had. If I break down, I call someone to come and pick up the samples so they reach the lab in time, before they go bad. There are other riders who can come and help. Even if the riders are occupied, they will always find some other way for the samples to be taken to the lab – by car, or whatever means.”

All couriers are given full training in how to ride their motorcycle safely and how to carry out basic maintenance. They get ongoing support to maintain the motorcycles to ensure the service remains reliable.

The couriers transport over 15,000 patient specimens each month. These included sputum for TB diagnosis, as well as blood samples for HIV monitoring, and various other specimen types.

When talking about the difference his work makes, Charles says, “It’s very important work. If somebody suffers from TB, they are being treated in these clinics. They used to have to travel a long way from their homes to get to the lab for results. But now it’s much easier for them because they just drop their samples at their local clinic, and riders will come and take them to the lab. They can go to the clinic knowing that their sample will be collected by a motorcycle and taken to the lab, and after two or three days they will get their results back. “

Charles’ role often goes beyond transporting samples, “We are more than just riders. We even encourage people to go for treatment for TB. We are educators to people in the community. We tell them to go and get treated for TB.

“If I see someone coughing continuously, I will tell them to leave their sputum sample at a clinic, so that I can collect it and take it to the lab. Then they will know that they are free from TB. But if they have TB, they can get treated.”