Special train to create AIDS awareness in remote villages

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New Delhi, Oct 31 (UNI) Under a unique and ambitious programme, India next month will launch a special train that will travel across the country covering over 40,000 villages in an effort to spread HIV/AIDS awareness to the ''unreached rural areas''.

The seven-coach train, named Red Ribbon Express (RRE), is an AIDS/HIV awareness campaign train by the Indian Railways comprising two Exhibition Coaches for display of educational material, an interactive Training Programme coach, one Conference and Meeting coach, a Counselling, Testing and Medical Services coach , an Administrative and Kitchen coach and a RRE Cultural performers sleeper coach.

The train will be flagged off from Delhi on December 1, 2007 (the World Aids Day) and traverse India in a Bharat Parikrama pattern for a period of one year from the day of the flagging off of the train.

The unique project is a collaborated effort with the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), UNICEF, State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) and will be implemented with inputs from Indian Railways, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) along with several partners and non-government organisations.

''About 180 major railway stations/halting points will be covered through this campaign in four different phases. On the basis of prevalence of HIV infection, the stations have been categorised into three groups A, B and C where the RRE will halt for one, two, or three days respectively to stage plays and skits about HIV/AIDS and door-to-door campaigns and then move on to the next station,'' NYKS Project Director Chandra Shekhar Pran told UNI.

''The RRE is expected to cover 43,200 village communities and reach out to crores of people across the country in a period of 360 days. The arrival of train at each of the destination will be accompanied by adequate media publicity with a view to encouraging local participants in the event and to generate traffic towards counselling, treatment and care facilities available in the railway coaches,'' he explained.

The RRE is a project for national campaign to mainstream the issue of HIV/AIDS which was developed by the RGF, NACO and NYKS in 2004. After a brief interlude, the intiative has been resuscitated with modified routes and dates.

''The project is aimed at providing communication and a service package to rural population and reach the unreached rural areas, '' said NYKS Director General Shakeel Ahmad Khan. The project is intended to enhance the levels of accurate knowledge of the people, especially the youth, by 2008 about HIV/AIDS, he added.

Also part of the national campaign, aimed at mainstreaming the issue of HIV/AIDS will be NSS, NSV, NYS, scouts and Guides, Red Cross, youth wings of political parties, faith based organisations and CBOs such as Rotary clubs.

As a follow-up, exit interviews, Focus Group discussions, filling in of forms, question-answer sessions discussions with Panchayats will be held immediately after the programmes.

India has the dubious distinction of having the second largest HIV infected population of over five lakh, with a major part of it concentrated in remote areas of the country still unaware of the much-talked about viral infection.


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