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The Red Ribbon Express chugs its way back home

Madhur Tankha

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

A success story: A volunteer explaining the AIDS awareness programme aboard the Red Ribbon Express to a visitor on World AIDS Day in New Delhi on Monday. The train spread awareness about HIV/AIDS at 180 stations across the country in one year.

NEW DELHI: World AIDS Day was commemorated here on Monday with successful completion of the year-long journey of the much talked about Red Ribbon Express at Safdarjung railway station.

Speaking on the occasion, Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary Naresh Dayal recalled that the Red Ribbon Express was flagged off by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi from this very station exactly a year ago. “It delights me to share with you the fact that the train has travelled to 180 stations and reached 6.2 million people in an interesting way. We are proud of our AIDS control programme because we have succeeded in arresting the infection and rolling it back. Yes, we can, and yes, we have pushed back the infection,” he said.

National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) Director-General Sujatha Rao said the function had been organised at the eleventh hour and that too under unhappy circumstances. “The mindless terror attacks in Mumbai have had an impact on all of us. Actually we were supposed to organise a grand function in Mumbai where 75,000 children would have listened to messages on how to protect themselves from HIV infection. But due to the terror attacks we had to shift the conclusion of the Red Ribbon Express to Delhi. Despite all this, the whole year-long journey evoked an overwhelming response from across the country.”

Looking at the resplendent locomotive, Ms. Rao said the train didn’t seem tired despite having covered 24 States with relevant messages on the dreaded disease. “I want to congratulate and thank our man Mohan Singh Rana, and two others, who travelled in the train 365 days without any Sunday or holiday. Luckily there was not even one instance when things became a bit awry,” she said, adding that NACO utilises 75 per cent of its budget on protecting people from HIV/AIDS.

Asserting that HIV-positive people can lead positive lives and serve as role models, UNICEF Country Representative Karin Hulshof said she was moved by the tremendous achievement of the Red Ribbon Express because it had reached out to over 1.2 million people, especially the younger generation. “It is impossible to leave this train without getting a big imprint on your hearts and heads. It showcases a fantastic exhibition that I hope will be put up in a Railway Museum. It is an eye-opener for anyone who is keen to protect himself from AIDS. It dwells on the discrimination and stigma attached to this disease and educates people on how HIV is transmitted inside the human body.”

Union Youth Affairs Secretary Sindhushree Khullar said given the high vulnerability of youth to HIV infection, the way to prevent this disease would be mainstreamed with every activity of her department.

To encapsulate “the largest mass mobilisation project in the world against HIV”, a documentary was screened on plasma screens on the occasion. In the film, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan activists were shown disseminating facts about HIV/AIDS. For visitors, the counselling couch was an interactive experience: some liked the question-answer game and for others it was a first-hand look at something they were not familiar with at all.

For Mohan Singh Rana the journey was all the more challenging because at many stations he had difficulty communicating with the railway staff because of the language problem.

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