Red Ribbon Express: HIV/AIDS awareness on wheels
By Yogesh Vajpeyi
India is all set to launch its biggest campaign involving children and youth in spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS when Red Ribbon Express chugs out of New Delhi on December 1.
Equipped with innovative and interactive communication devices, the specially designed 'smart train' will cover more than 9,000 kms during its year-long journey across the vast country, halting at 180 stations for a few days to make sure that its massage reaches far flung villages.
'With this campaign, we want to sensitize the masses about AIDS and issues related to stigma and discrimination. This will be achieved by building the capacities of stakeholders, especially common people at the village, block and districts levels,' said India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss.
The seven-coach train will have three exhibition coaches, one each for counseling and medical services, an auditorium cum conference coach and a pantry car. A trope of 60 young artiste campaigners will be aboard the three sleeper coaches.
"Specially trained for the purpose, they will fan out to nearby villages in buses and bicycles at scheduled stations to educate people that HIV/AIDS is no stigma and they can combat it by adopting safe behavioral practices," says Chandra Shekhar Pran, Director Nehru Yuva Kendra.
Conceptualized by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and executed by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) with support from Nehru Yuva Kendra, UNICEF and others, Red Ribbon Express is a multi-sectoral and multi-activity social mobilization campaign on HIV/AIDS.
Its objectives include:
"It's an umbrella exercise to involve, inform and incorporate the people into a genuine mass movement against the disease for which the medical world is yet to find a cure,’’says Mayank Agarwal, Joint Director NACO.
Apart from street plays and other awareness programmes by artiste campaigners, the Red Ribbon Express will also provide HIV testing facilities, medical check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases and counseling.
The Red Ribbon Express (RRE) is one of the best manifestations of the spirit of “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign launched by UNICEF and UNAIDS in 2005.
UNICEF has been involved in giving technical support, designing exhibits and panels, materials for mass media for RRE. UNICEF state offices have been involved in planning and logistical support at the state level along with State AIDS Control Societies (SACS).
RRE will create awareness amongst people about HIV and AIDS, the services available and help to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with the infection.
The public will have a chance to view exhibitions on HIV and reproductive health, access counseling, participate in discussions and debates on the subject.
'To prepare a receptive atmosphere, an advance team will prepare the villagers, mobilize the community and the troupes will be received by the village head who will formally receive a letter from the Prime Minister," says a NACO official.
By March next year, the Red Ribbon Express would have travelled through the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, UP, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Assam.
As a follow-up activity, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan is planning to set up Red Ribbon Clubs in villages to carry on the awareness programmes even after the Red Ribbon Express returns to Delhi after a year's journey, he informs.