Washington Post Examines Indian Nationwide Train Trip To Raise HIV/AIDS Awareness Among Youth in Rural Villages
The Washington Post on Friday examined the Red Ribbon Express -- a nationwide train trip launched by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that over the course of one year will reach 60,000 rural villages nationwide to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among youth. The project, assisted by UNICEF, was launched on Saturday in New Delhi, the Post reports (Lakshmi, Washington Post, 12/7).
The Red Ribbon Express has seven coaches equipped with medical equipment; facilities for counseling, examination and treatment; rest rooms; a kitchen; and an auditorium. Doctors, paramedics and volunteers will be on board to provide care to youth. According to Mayank Agarwal, joint director of the National AIDS Control Organization, the train is expected to stop at 180 stations across the country. Stops will include the vulnerable states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. During the stops, the train's staff will travel to rural areas and spend several days educating residents about HIV/AIDS, as well as facilitating examination and treatment, Agarwal said (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26).
Some Indian officials say that the Red Ribbon Express "represents an admission that the general population remains woefully ignorant about" HIV/AIDS, the Post reports. India faces a "daunting challenge of communicating AIDS information" in a country were discussion of the disease and ways to prevent it are considered "taboo," according to the Post. Ashok Alexander -- director of Avahan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Indian HIV/AIDS initiative -- said that the "quickest way to lose an audience" in India is to "start talking about HIV." He added, "We pretend to be more moral than others, even though studies show the high prevalence of concurrent sexual relationships. We act as if our morality is an invisible condom." NACO hopes the train will "carry the [HIV/AIDS] message to a wider population beyond the high-risk groups," NACO head Sujata Rao said. "The train will force people to face the issue head on," Rao said, adding, "There is still a lot of denial about AIDS in our society."
According to the health ministry, about 80% of Indians ages 15 to 24 have heard of the disease, but only 57% correctly can identify prevention methods. NACO has pledged about $3 billion over the next five years for HIV/AIDS programs -- including public education, blood safety, condom promotion and antiretroviral therapy -- the Post reports (Washington Post, 12/7).