At the outset, let me state that it is a privilege for UNICEF to be a part of the Red Ribbon Express. Madam Sonia Gandhi has executed an act of enormous significance as she has just flagged off a train to freedom – freedom from AIDS and the stigma associated with it.
I congratulate the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, NACO, Ministry of Railways, Nehru Yuva Kendra, UNAIDS and all other partners for undertaking such a important and imaginative communication experiment.
All over the world, UNICEF has been advocating for an AIDS-free generation. Two years ago, UNICEF and UNAIDS launched the Unite against AIDS, Unite for Children campaign. This has since grown to become the world’s largest campaign to draw attention to the global impact of HIV/AIDS on children and young people.
There is no better expression of that uniting campaign than the Red Ribbon Express. Today, the Red Ribbon Express will begin its year-long journey of uniting 22 states in India to spread the message of health and hope for all people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Prevention is absolutely critical to stop the spread of this epidemic. And yet, according to a 2006 NACO study, an alarming one in three young people in India still don’t know how to protect themselves from the virus.
The time to act is now – we need to reach these youth before the virus reaches them.
Our goal is to reduce young people’s vulnerabilities, slow the rate of new infections and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. One of our major challenges is how to reach the 70 million out-of-school young people in India. As the Red Ribbon Express weaves its way across the country, I am confident that the train tracks will make inroads to finding and educating these excluded youth.
The Red Ribbon Express relies on a network of young and well-trained communicators. Communication is the key here – it is through these communicators that we will make prevention the ‘talk of the town’ or shall I say, the talk of villages everywhere.
I am confident that 2008 is the year that India will talk AIDS – thanks to the Red Ribbon Express.