After two years of planning, the Red Ribbon Express will finally chug off from here Dec 1 with volunteers who will fan out to villages across India to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The seven-coach Red Ribbon Express will traverse 9,000 km and cover 180 districts across the country. It will halt at hundreds of stations, especially in rural areas and conduct 43,200 programmes and activities to create awareness about the ailment in over 43,000 villages.
The train will have three exhibition coaches, one each for counselling and medical services, an auditorium cum conference coach and a pantry car, health ministry officials said.
"It will go into the hinterland, the villages, and little corners of India to spread awareness about AIDS prevention and treatment," said Geeta Bormezai, a senior official of the Department of Information, Education and Communication at the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO).
The train will be accompanied by people on bicycles and bus caravans to fan out to nearby villages and panchayats from the railway station and spread the message.
The project is a joint initiative of NACO, a body of the union health ministry, and Unicef, and would be supported by Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS), a wing of the youth affairs ministry, Bormezai told IANS.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss will flag off the train on World AIDS Day Dec 1. India is home to an estimated 2.5 million HIV-positive people, including 70,000 children.
"With this campaign, we want to sensitise the masses about AIDS and issues related to stigma and discrimination. This will be achieved by building the capacities of stakeholders, especially common people at the village, block and districts levels," Bormezai said.
According to NACO, the project is intended as an umbrella exercise to involve, inform and incorporate the people into a genuine mass movement against the disease for which the medical world is yet to find a cure.
"The aim is to mainstream the area of travel and work. AIDS is more than a health issue. It's an issue of dignity to life without any social discrimination," said another official of NACO.
"Apart from street plays and other awareness programmes by our activists, people can avail of HIV testing facilities, medical check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases and counselling," said the official, adding that it will be the first AIDS awareness train in the world.
The health ministry and the ministry of youth affairs had been planning to launch the train for the past two years. Though there was a plan to have four trains initially, the ministries decided to have one.