Published: May 11th 2010May 11th 2010
Red Ribbon Express - entry
Coach one of the exhibition info carriages - The guy in the forground is the lovely Subham who heads a CBO supporting sexual minority populations - an amazingly talented and "brave" man.
I had the extreme pleasure yesterday of visiting this remarkable train which has been set up under the Rajiv Ghandi Foundation as an awareness raising campaign all over India.
This is an entire fitted out train of about 7 carriages. It's administered by the National Council for AIDS Control (NACO). It travels around India and stops for a day or two at each place (just parks at a pre-determined station platform) - then there are tents and displays and inaugurations by VIPs on the platform. People come along and enter one end of the train and move through the very well done inter-active at times presentations on 'most' (read on) things to do with AIDS and HIV.
The really brilliant thing is that at each stop (after obviously a lot of effective organisation) local HIV and AIDS workers from local Non-Gov (mostly) organisations 'man' (and 'woman') the train - decked out in T-shirts and caps - they are there to guide the public and explain things to them. The NACO crowd just sit at the entrance really and keep an eye on things. This happening for the locals is a great energy boost for them and another networking opportunity
The Red Ribbon Express logos etc
Coming to an Indian town near you!
as well. And I think it's fun to boot.
The end carriage is sepearte to the displays and info sharing ones - it is a Counselling and Testing carriage - so people can go into private booths for HIV and I presume Reproductive Health Counselling, HIV Testing and other Health Checks(although I did notice it was not THAT private if you just wandered through and peeped - not that anyone seemed too concerned). Brilliant!
All nicely done (as you'll see from the pics) - great displays and very clean etc..
Being under the Rajiv Ghandi Foundation there is a bit of a 'political' hitch here - to the Congress Party (members of whom are proudly displayed as being responsible for all this). OK - I can handle that! Good for them!
However - there is what I would call a MISSING CARRIAGE! While I cannot say this first hand (because everything was written in (for this stop) Oriya - the local language - I can say that from the feedback from some of my new 'friends' in local Community Based Organisations that there was absolutely NO mention of things like:
-Transmission through anal sex
Inside the train
Sudha on the left heads another CBO that supports people living with HIV and AIDS - another amazing young man. Subham again on the right.
-Transmission from sex workers
-Transmission from sharing needles
-Issues of sexual minorities (like 'men who have sex with men') and their rights etc...
-Harm minimisation coverage (well maybe some given the condoms being handed out and the condom vending machine)
Hm.... rather a bit of an oversight methinks - so I did leave a LONG feedback paragraph on this at the end of the display (where there was a feedback book). I also asked the NACO guys about this - who in turn simply referred me to the feedback book.
Oh well - things are the same everywhere I guess - (although in Australia we did manage to tackle a lot of these issues early - but still face pockets of 'don't mention the war' when it came to those 'unsavoury' aspects of HIV and AIDS!!!!). For India - where there are about 5 million people with HIV (a small incidence against the 1.3 billion people here BUT a HUGE raw number) - where I don't think a lot of hard data exists on how many, say, were infected by anal sex or sharing needles or sex workers (the latter has to be assumed to be
Multi coloured train
View of more of the Red Ribbon Express
a huge one as, like Africa, there are so many truckers in India and remote workers) - I think it's very risky to play safe political games with information campaigns. Hopefully this can be changed through comment and advocacy.
Disclaimer: As a VSO Volunteer working in India, the views expressed here are solely my own and not those of VSO India or VSO UK.
There are more photos below