Red Ribbon Express - a train to the stigma-free world of AIDS awareness

December 1st, 2008 - 4:53 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 1 (IANS) Young girls giggled nervously as they tropped aboard the Red Ribbon Express (RRE), the train carrying the message of HIV and AIDS awareness across the country and attempt to remove the stigma faced by victims of the disease that affects 2.5 million people in India alone.Phoolkumari, a teenager, was one in a crowd of ten other women and youngsters visiting the train’s interactive display Sunday. The group was from Netaji Nagar, a low-income housing locality near the Safdarjung railway station here.

The teenager had come earlier in the week with her aunt, but came back with her sister and other relatives because she felt “the information was relevant and the interactive quiz games on the touch-screen monitor were fun.”

An elderly woman in the group found the message of the project “important as it dispelled myths”.

“AIDS does not spread through touch or physical contact,” Gita announced after attending a counselling session.

She came to know that and other information thanks to the counselling and guided tour of the exhibit she had attended.

A senior volunteer taking her group through the graphic display even told them of an instance when a boy refused to perform the last rites of his father fearing that his AIDS afflicted father would transmit the disease to him.

A group of over thirty eunuchs backed by NGO, Deepshikha Samiti also got on the RRE. Though many joked along the way, they became serious during the counselling session as “they learnt more with each step”

The RRE has travelled 27,000 km across the length and breadth of the country and halted at 180 stations in the past year. The train has reached out directly to more than 620,000 people in 24 States with information on HIV and AIDS.

The Safdarjung railway station here is its final destination as the journey culminates here Monday evening, on occasion of World AIDS day. The project, a mass-mobilisation campaign was initiated last year on the same occasion.

Conceptualised by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, the RRE project was implemented by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) in partnership with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), UNICEF, Railways ministry and State AIDS Control Societies (SACS).

“The RRE project is an innovative broad based, multi-media, mass-mobilization campaign to create enabling environment to fight HIV/AIDS,” said Mayank Agrawal, joint director IEC, NACO.

The train has three coaches housing the exhibition and a coach each for training volunteers and counselling. After halting at various stations, the message was taken to the various regions in the district.

The social outreach programmes on use of condoms and stigma and discrimination of HIV and AIDS affected persons were communicated via folk and vernacular drama - six groups performing four times in a day.

“Other than women and youngsters, our core target was drug users and sex workers,” Agrawal added.

There was a staff of 20 people on board and 60 circulating members, of which two stayed on throughout the journey.

Mohnish Kumar, monitoring and evaluation officer RRE, was one of them. He said the most favourable response had been felt in Kerala and Delhi.

Expressing pride at having been part of the project — the ‘biggest initiative of its kind’, he said despite the train having come to a halt at its final destination, he felt it was the beginning.

“The message has gone out to 6.2 million others who will form a web to communicate the message to many others,” said Kumar.

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