India will soon launch a unique train that will travel all over the country with volunteers who will from each station fan out to villages on bicycles to spread awareness about AIDS and how to combat it.
The seven-coach "Red Ribbon Express" will create awareness about the killer disease in over 40,000 villages, according to a youth affairs ministry official.
"With around 5.1 million HIV positive people in India (estimated to have the second largest population of AIDS patients in the world after South Africa), continuous awareness is the only way to combat AIDS. The train will be launched within two months," said S.Y. Quraishi, secretary in the ministry of youth affairs and sports.
"Earlier, we were pitching for four trains. But after discussing with the railway ministry and studying technical viabilities, authorities zeroed down on one train," Quraishi told IANS on the sidelines of a health and youth seminar here. "It will reach out to over 40,000 villages."
The project, which will cost around Rs.250 million (about $ 5 million) to the government, would be a joint effort from the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO), the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and the Ministry of Youth Affairs.
The train, which will move around the country for a year, will halt one night and two days at each place.
"In two of the coaches there will be 10 teams of volunteers, who will fan out on bicycles to nearby villages to create awareness through one-to-one interactions, street theater and other interpersonal communication methods," Quraishi added.
"Every team will cover five villages at one halt. Thus 50 villages will be covered in one night and two days. The volunteers will change according to the state. "Regional volunteers will help in reaching out to the masses."
He said places not directly reachable through train would be helped by feeder bus services.
"Along with condom distribution, there would be artistes, doctors and counsellors on the train to provide preliminary sex education and counselling to the villagers. We want not only to create awareness about the disease but also to prevent it from taking the shape of an epidemic.
"There will be a media contingent and a few celebrities on the train to attract people. The effort is to make more and more rural folk understand the seriousness of the problem and thus create awareness among them."