As AIDS awareness campaigns go, this one is taking an ambitious new route.
A seven-coach train will criss-cross the country, covering 50,000 villages, to spread AIDS awareness.
The railways and the ministry of health have finalised a plan to run the Red Ribbon Express (RRE), a train carrying doctors, paramedic staff, volunteers and, most interesting of all, folk artistes who will spread their message in villages through songs and skits.
The red ribbon is worn worldwide as a symbol to demonstrate care and concern about HIV and AIDS. The train, which has been named after the symbol, will be equipped with a counselling cell, examination and medical care room, rest room, kitchen and an auditorium. It is slated to start from Kanyakumari in December and, after covering 180 stations, return there.
The unique project is a collaborative effort of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and the railways.
“Besides launching an awareness campaign, the health ministry also wants to mobilise youth in rural areas to fight against the deadly HIV virus. The train will halt at rural stations for a day, create awareness with the help of street plays and door-to-door campaigns and then move on to the next station,” said Prakash Sabde, project director of the Maharashtra AIDS Control Society.
As per an agreement signed between S. Suresh Kumar, NACO director, finance and Mathew John, secretary, railway board on June 21, the railways will provide air-conditioned coaches and an engine, and decide the route and stops, while NACO will look after other infrastructure arrangements like making available approach roads, water supply and coordinating with local panchayats wherever required.
“It is expected to stop at a pre-determined destination, which will be the nodal point for serving and accessing a cluster of pre-identified villages,” Sabde said.
During the halt at each station the 60 performing artistes on board will go to various villages in different groups. Each group will have orators and performers — and there will be street plays, folk songs, stories and group counselling sessions.
The train will cover almost all states, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, UP and Bihar. Its arrival at each destination will be accompanied by media coverage to encourage local participation, as per the plan.