Young people queuing up outside the Red Ribbon Express at Valsad Railway Station
Valsad, Gujarat, 11 September 2008: Red Ribbon Express (RRE), an exhibition on wheels, arrived in Gujarat and opened its doors to a treasure of information on HIV and AIDS for the people of Gujarat.
A large crowd of more than 1,000 persons young and old, boys and girls from near and far, had gathered to welcome the train at Valsad Railway Station which wore a festive look with large hoardings, posters and banners of the Red Ribbon Express.
The RRE spreading the message of “Zindagi Zindabad” (live long) has seven coaches which house exhibitions and provide information on HIV and AIDS, the availability of services to enable HIV positive people to live a purposeful life, prevention of parent to child transmission, condom promotion and anti retroviral treatment. They also sensitize people to create a non-discriminatory environment for those living with the disease.
Gujarat Minister for Agriculture, Cooperation and Animal Husbandry, Mr. Dilip Sanghani and senior officials had traveled from the state capital to Valsad to receive the train. Members of the Legislative Assembly, district officials, UNICEF State Representative Dr. Yogendra Mathur, and NGO representatives were also present.
RRE drew large crowds and young girls and boys queued up to await their turn for a glimpse inside the train. Commenting on the usefulness of the RRE, Sajid Pathan, a student from Industrial Training Institute (ITI) of Billimora said, "It is a wise initiative of the government to route the train through Gujarat to spread awareness among the youth about prevention of HIV and AIDS, particularly since the Adolescence Education Programme in schools has been discontinued. It is important to educate young people in the age group 15-24 years as they are the most vulnerable section of society".
A group of girl students at the counselling centre in the Red Ribbon Express at Valsad
Counseling services in coach number five of RRE draw crowds of young people seeking answers to a host of questions. When asked what she liked most in the RRE, a girl student said, “The most important thing was the knowledge of using a condom. This has helped me learn how a condom should be used and disposed of. Not many of us knew about this”. As a result of the counseling, several youth took advantage of a booth set up by the Civil Hospital to get their blood tested for HIV as some boy students acknowledged having indulged in unsafe behaviour.
Some youth who had never attended school said they knew nothing about HIV and AIDS or safe sex. “After visiting the train, I know that one can be infected by HIV as a result of unsafe sex. However, I can protect myself by using a condom. I did not know about this earlier”, said 23-year old Pappu, who works at a food stall on the station.
The exhibits in the Red Ribbon Express are powerful and effective and the audio visuals and inter-active television games are popular with the youth. “Earlier, we had some information about HIV and AIDS but RRE has helped us know more, e.g. the number of people affected by HIV and AIDS across the world and in India, how it affects the community and ways in which we can protect ourselves”, say the students. They accept that for the first time they have learnt the difference between HIV and AIDS, availability of ART to control the disease and prevention of transmission of HIV from mother to child.
The RRE will visit 15 districts across Gujarat over a one month period. Dr. Yogendra Mathur informed the media about the services available at the Government Hospitals and asked them to create awareness to encourage pregnant women to get themselves screened during ante natal check ups to prevent parent to child transmission of HIV.
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