Teens Trust the Tutu Teen Truck!

The Tutu Teen Truck is a non-traditional health clinic on the back of a truck. This free service is not restricted to one place as it drives to different locations in Cape Town, delivering free healthcare to young people between 12-24 years. It targets areas that adolescents can find easily in limited-resource settings such as near schools in the Emavundleni and Philippi regions. Tsidiso Tolla, from the University of Cape Town, presented her master’s thesis at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation research meeting, where she examined the acceptability of the Tutu Teen Truck.

Uptake of sexual health services in young people in Sub-Saharan Africa is low (1). Tolla commented that “This is problematic because of the high prevalence of HIV and STIs in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.” Therefore, it is essential to understand what factors affect youth and their adherence to HIV prevention tools before measures can be implemented to reduce the risk of new infections.

The Tutu Teen Truck | Caroline Reid

Health service access for young people is essential for preventing this population from new HIV and STI incidence. Tailored health services for youths are shown to be very effective at increasing the number of young people that seek these services, but the coverage in South Africa is still low.

The Tutu Teen Truck

The Tutu Teen Truck is a mobile clinic that drives straight into limited-resource communities. Comprised of a truck and a trailer, the mobile unit parks in a clear spot and sets up chairs and music for people to come and wait. After signing in and having some basic health checks (height, weight etc), the patient can then go into one of the clinics on the truck. Inside is a clean medical space and a healthcare provider who specialises in adolescent care.

Locations change every day on rotation to offer its services around the community. The Tutu Teen Truck has its own facebook page and twitter account so that adolescents can keep up to date on the latest news.

This is a great alternative to a traditional health clinic for young people in these limited-resource and high-disease burdened communities. Not only is the mobile clinic tailored for youth, with its after-school operational hours and non-judgemental staff, but traditional clinics are sometimes faraway and the Tutu Truck situates itself in spots where youth gather, like sports fields and shopping centres.

The Response

Tolla’s study examined the sexual and reproductive health services, including screening, testing and referrals offered to young people by the Tutu Teen Truck. Over 300 adolescents filled in a questionnaire on their experience at the Tutu Teen Truck.

More than 90% of participants said that the mobile clinic was helpful and had a good overall experience of using the clinic. This is great news for the Tutu Teen Truck, it has shown to be an appreciated service within the community. Of the people who came, there was no difference in acceptability of the service between men and women, but over 80% of the sample was female.

Tutu Teen Truck

The ‘men’s health gap’ is a documented phenomenon where social structures prevent men from accessing healthcare services and taking treatment(2). With fewer men accessing the clinic in total, this indicates that maybe there needs to be other ways of accessing the young men who aren’t going to the clinics. The Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation is involved with initiatives to target men, including ‘Men’s dialogue’ in Cape Town and a community action programme in Johannesburg.

Testing for HIV

Interestingly, Tolla noted that a large factor for a positive experience was “Having ever tested for HIV was very strongly associated with which service they had used [before]” Adolescents who have been tested for HIV before using the Tutu Teen Truck is strongly associated with how acceptable their past experiences were. Youths who had tested elsewhere rated the truck more positively, indicating that tailored service is improving the testing experience.

Tsidiso Tolla | DTHF Research Meeting

Whereas patients who had never experienced an HIV test before rated the experience less-positively. Tolla explained that “It was not unexpected since the process of HIV testing is anxiety provoking under any circumstances, especially for the first time.” Adolescents having their first HIV testing experience at the Tutu Teen truck may have had a less-positive experience due to the stresses of this test.

Overall, this feedback indicates that the Tutu Teen Truck is providing a valuable and appreciated service, accessing a population at high-risk of HIV. We thank our sponsors: Chevron, Alere and Vive, for their much-appreciated donations for the Tutu Teen Truck. Thank you for keeping the engine running!


If you want to help our Tutu Truck fleet and keep the wheels turning, then consider making a donation or getting a ‘My School’ Woolworths card and setting your sponsored charity as the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.

Tutu Teen Truck


  1. Contraception for adolescents in low and middle income countries: needs, barriers, and access
  2. Men’s health gap