By :K. M. Ravindran and Smt. V. Geetha : “I always had a few questions in my mind on AIDS and related subjects …but I hesitated to seek answers from others. Now my encounter with the Red Ribbon Express turned out to be a
big revelation as the answers that I was seeking were there”.
This was how Sumathy a teenage student from a Madurai school reflected after disembarking from Red Ribbon Express on its first day of sojourn in Madurai today. ‘The exhibition train not only explained about HIV and AIDS but also shed ample light on issues related to adolescents”, Sumathy said with a satisfied look.
The Red Ribbon Express, a unique project of ‘campaign on the wheels’ aimed at widening awareness about HIV, promoting safe behavioural practices and fighting the stigma attached to it arrived Tamil Nadu’s temple town of Madurai on March 18, 2010. Madurai Corporation Mayor Ms. Thenmozhi Gopinathan inaugurated the exhibition by ringing a bronze bell, symbolizing the clarion call to the society ‘to be informed’.
As the bell rung, waiting people, quite large number of them students, flocked into the train. It was not for a physical journey….but for a journey of mind and thoughts through various facets AIDS, perhaps the most disquieting health concern of the recent times.
All the eight coaches of the train are packed. Packed with a wide variety of information and educative tools on AIDS besides wide and related subjects. They include bio-medical aspects of HIV/AIDS with interactive touch screens, 3 D models, educational material with the focus on support and treatment services, messages on need for creating ‘enabling environment ‘ and getting rid of stigma , information on general health, hygiene and communicable diseases like swine flu, Tuberculosis and Reproductive and Child Health services and so on. The whole effort
is not just confined to exhibition and exhibits. Organizers have added wider meaning and essence to the exhibition on the wheels by offering or sensitization sessions to the visitors. One coach has an auditorium-cum-conference hall where sessions are being held for representatives from Panchayat Raj Institutions, Anganwadi Workers, Self Help Groups and youth. The train has four counselors, and two doctors on board who are eager to provide counseling and offer syndromic treatment for Sexually Transmitted Infections and Reproductive Tract Infections cases besides testing for HIV.
“I was told an exhibition train is coming… I was curious to see it. The volunteers in the
train were explaining the details on AIDS in simple manner which could be understood by
illiterates like me” said grandma Pandiammal from Karupayurani.
Tamil Nadu state AIDS control Society (TANSACS) Project Director Shri. Shambu
Kallolikar, Dy. Police Commissioner Smt. Thenmozhi, Dr. Kasthuribai Jayaraj, Chief Medical
Officer, Railway Hospital, representatives from various Government departments, NGOs working
in the field of HIV, members of the network of people living with HIV along with hundreds of young
people were also present during the inaugural function.
Dillu Dura Campaign
In a fitting complement to the Red Ribbon Express “Dillu Dura”, a state level campaign by
Tamil Nadu Government is also taking place simultaneously. 12 vans consisting of 10 cultural
performers in each van will be reaching out to the villages in Madurai district during the duration
of the trains stay in the temple city. The campaign aims to motivate the most vulnerable
population to access the “Nambikkai Maiyam” (Integrated Counseling and Testing Centre – ICTC)
to seek answers to their doubts on HIV.
As part of the second phase of the “Dillu Dura” campaign starting today these vans will
be traveling along with the Red Ribbon Express and will be reaching out to the rural areas to
address the myths and misconceptions associated with HIV and also announce the arrival of the
Red Ribbon Express.
It is estimated that 1,84,000 people are living with HIV in Tamil Nadu (as on 2007) and
around 40,000 people are currently receiving free Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) through the
37 ART centres that are available all over the state. Scaling up of HIV programmes across
Tamil Nadu motivating people to come forward and access services freely with out fear of any
stigma has turned out to be a success. “Dillu Dura” seeks to promote access to ICTC centres
(Nambikkai Maiyam) as the gateway to access other HIV related services.
The train entered Tamilnadu on March 14, 2010 at Nagercoil. A total of 15,000 visitors
turned up to see the train during its halt at Nagercoil and more than 10,000 people visited the
train at Virudhunagar.
The Red Ribbon Express, conceived by Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), National AIDS
Control Organisation and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangatan was launched on December 1, 2009.
The broad objectives of the Red Ribbon Express are to provide communication and a service
package to rural population and reach un-reached areas in rural areas. The Red Ribbon Express
is a comprehensive multi- sectoral, multi-media multi-theme and unique campaign ever in the
areas of HIV/AIDS communication. There were a lot of cultural programmes that were
performed by cultural performers and NGO representatives at the junction during the arrival of the
It has been green lights all through for the Express during its traverse through Delhi
Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and now in Tamil Nadu. It will continue its
journey till April 2, 2010 in the State. The train is traveling to 10 districts of Tamil Nadu including
Nagarcoil, Virudhunagar, Madurai, Rameswaram, Tanjore, Coimbatore, Salem, Cuddalore,
(Virudhachalam), Kanchipuram (Chengalpet) and Chennai. The RRE will cover 3442 villages and
approximately 1300 kms during its journey in Tamil Nadu.(