A giant walking condom distributing pamphlets, college students and transgenders performing dance numbers on temporary arena, stalls of food, handicrafts and jewellery, puppet show - nothing could have been more welcoming to platform 11 of Chennai central where the 'Red Ribbon Express' was stationed for its two-day visit to Chennai on May 28, 2012.
AIDS Awareness on Express: Currently in its third phase of the initiative taken up by the NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation), the Express was flagged off from Delhi in January 2012 with plans to cover 23 states across the country. In the ninth state of its schedule, the Express halted in the capital city of Tamil Nadu for two days, and is en route to Andhra Pradesh.
AdvertisementBesides having exhibition coaches that inform about AIDS, the train also had counselling and screening centres for HIV, and coaches committed to training professionals working with HIV positive patients such as SHGs (Self-Help Group), nurses and outreach workers, in addition to school and college students and police. "The test results for HIV will be known in a short span of 20 min. In the first day, we had around 144 people undergoing the test," said R. Dhivya, one of the coordinators from TANSACS (Tamil Nadu State Aids Control Society).
Training Schedule: Speaking about the training session, 47-year-old S. Mari, a nurse who underwent the training said, "We were elaborated on the basics of HIV and taught to handle such cases with safety for them and us. But the highlights of the training were the (HIV) positive speakers who handled much of the training and gave us insight into the way an HIV positive person expects to be cared. 'How to be with them and how to look after them' was really insightful." The training session had various methods adopted, including power point presentations, audiovisual methods, and was conducted in batches from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Apart from HIV and AIDS, other epidemics emerging in the state were also discussed including swine flu and malaria. In addition, screening centres for diabetes, blood pressure and obesity were also thronged upon by the visiting masses. "It is just great that these health screenings are being conducted absolutely free of cost. The doctors even gave us free medicines," says an upbeat Shanmugasundaram, who works at the High Court.
Diversion from Stigma: The significant aspect of the event was that it deviated at large from the typical medical awareness programmes with cultural events, puppets and dance numbers, thus offering it a gala touch. "It is more of a family outing kind of a feel with all the fun and frolic here. Just look at the large turnout in this hot weather," said another enthusiastic visitor, 64-year-old Sathya Rao, pointing out to sensible use of entertainment to spread awareness.
Expressing her delight, Dhivya said, "We had a huge turnout of around 25000 people even on the second day. The youngsters are coming out in large numbers from all walks of life. In fact, Tamil Nadu has the largest number of people visiting the Red Ribbon Express."
Reiterating that the event spread much awareness, Rajeshwar Rao, a computer trainer said, "Awareness is very much necessary, especially for HIV, because we generally feel hesitant to discuss it because of its 'sexual' aspect. We got to know many things today. For example, I never knew that just by following a healthy diet and good exercise routine, a positive patient can extend his lifespan by years."