New Delhi: Its taken three years to plan. Its gone through the rigours of routing and rerouting travel and time schedules. Different advertising agencies have made frenzied pitched for what was a ‘prized account’ – to conceptualize thematic promotional material for the exteriors and interiors of the train, besides creating branding on different railway stations. Licenses have been procured and permissions from various nodal agencies sought. Senior officials in government departments have in the interim assumed different roles. And now, on World AIDS Day 2007, it has finally rolled.
Red Ribbon Express, India's largest advocacy campaign
Red Ribbon Express, India’s largest advocacy campaign
The dream of Dr SY Quraishi, the then director general of the National AIDS Control Organization, the concept of the Red Ribbon Express as a multisectoral and multiactivity social mobilization campaign was envisaged in the year 2004 to be the world’s largest and most ambitious advocacy initiative in the history of HIV/AIDS.
RRE gets ready for take off
RRE gets ready for take off
In its final shape, on World AIDS Day 2007, it was flagged off from New Delhi’s Safdarjung Railway Station by Sonia Gandhi, congress president, in the presence of Lalu Prasad Yadav, union minister for railways, Anbumani Ramadoss, union minister for health and family welfare, Panabakka Lakshmi, minister of state for health, Sujata Rao, director general, NACO and representatives of UNICEF and UNAIDS.
Conceptualized by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and executed by National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), with support from Nehru Yuva Kendra, UNICEF and others, its single-point agenda is to urgently reach out to the country’s rural population, especially youth through a tool that is easy to relate to and can have desired impact which is strong enough to convert awareness, knowledge and education into behaviour change.
Equipped with innovative and interactive communication devices, the specially designed ’smart train’ will cover more than 9,000 kms during its year-long journey across the country, halting at each of the 180 stations on its route for a few days, spreading its message in all villages in the vicinity.
“Having entered into the next phase of the HIV epidemic where more people are getting infected and affected, there is need to tell them that they can access treatment and services; live longer lives; and that living with an infected person, does not pose any hazard to those around him/her,” said Ramadoss, adding that inspite of working actively through the 38 State AIDS Control Socieites of NACO, there is still need to educate people on these vital issues. The RRE according to him, hopes to reach out to those remote and inaccessible parts of India where print, electronic and mass media messages/ campaigns have not made a dent.
Trains, designed to arouse curiosity, draw crowds
The seven-coach train will have three exhibition coaches, one each for counseling and medical services, an auditorium cum conference coach and a pantry car. A troupe of 60 young artiste campaigners will be aboard the three sleeper coaches,through the entire duration of the year-long ride.
“Specially trained for the purpose, they will branch out to nearby villages in buses and bicycles at every halt, talking to people, sharing animated stories and answering questions. Focus will be on telling them that HIV/AIDs is no stigma and that safe behavioural practices is all it takes, to remain uninfected,” says Chandra Shekhar Pran, director Nehru Yuva Kendra who has mobilized young volunteers and helped train them for this mega project.
“It’s an umbrella exercise to involve, inform and incorporate all strata of society and let it grow into a mass movement that can fight a disease for which the medical world is yet to find a cure,’’ says Mayank Agarwal, joint director, IEC, NACO.
Using street plays, folk music, mime and puppet shows, it will target youth groups, women/women’s self-help groups, adolescent and student communities, urban slum dwellers and farmers.
Halting at stations and fanning out to nearby villages
The train, stopping at pre-determined stations, will serve as the nodal point for serving and accessing a cluster of pre-identified villages. Residents will have a chance to view exhibitions on HIV and reproductive health, access counseling, participate in discussions and debates on the subject.
The six performing teams aboard the train- each with 10 artistes-- will on bicycles set out to cover the villages during each halt and will stage plays and skits on the subject, involving villagers in interactive games and discussions.
Another group of young campaigners travelling in buses will go farther than the cyclists to cover a larger area. The advance team will prepare a receptive atmosphere, by mobilizing the community and having the troupes received by the Panchayat or village head. The enthusiam of the villages is already palpable for the mukhiyas have received a letter from the Prime Minister himself.
By March next year, the Red Ribbon Express would have travelled through the high risk states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, UP, Bihar, Uttranchal, Jharkhand and Assam.
“During the one-year run we hope to have a compilation of fascinating success stories from the ground, with incidents that capture the specific challenges of the districts the train moves through, ” says Pran.
As a follow-up activity, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan will set up special Red Ribbon Clubs in villages to carry on awareness activity, even after the Red Ribbon Express leaves their respective railway platforms, he informed.