By Anjali Singh (CNS) senior journalist, Citizen News Service (CNS)
It was a monumental event as the Red Ribbon Express rolled into Chopan a small district in Sonebhadra UP on July 17 this year. Received with much pomp and show by both locals and the district administration, the train that carried with it messages of “zindagi zindabad” entered its first destination in UP armed with messages for a healthy and safe life for all.
The station was decked up with festoons and balloons and was choc a bloc with stalls done up in the symbolic red and white colors all set to combating the threat of AIDS. Street plays, puppet shows, dances and awareness stalls on the theme entertained and educated the visiting people on the platform as they awaited the arrival of the train.
As the train entered platform 1, the excitement of the people of Chopan could not be contained. Everyone was eager to hear and see the innovative exhibits that it carried to educate them about protecting themselves against HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs). During the three day halt PRIs, AWWs, SHGs, Youth Groups and women all were also trained and oriented about educating and advising people about the disease in their district through sessions held by UNICEF, UP State AIDS Control Society (UPSACS) and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) representatives.
During it’s stay at Chopan from 17-19 July those who visited the train not only got a education on safe and healthy practices which help protect one from HIV but also got a chance to seek counseling cum medical examination and treatment for STIs, RTIs, tuberculosis (TB) and other problems they faced.
With the state health minister Ananth Kumar Mishra, inaugurating the Red Ribbon Express on its arrival, the exhibits were open to be viewed by the locals almost immediately.
On the first day itself the footfalls on the train post-inauguration was 1834 persons followed by over 500 more viewing the train starting early in the morning on second.
Addressing the crowd collected Mishra stressed on the fact that this was a historical event which will help keep people in Uttar Pradesh healthy and safe against threats of life threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS, swine flu, TB etc.
He said, “When I heard about the Red Ribbon Express I was very keen to be present when it entered the state of Uttar Pradesh. That’s why I made sure that I would be in Chopan to receive it so that my being here could attract attention of not only the people but all those agencies that can spread the news of the train travelling through out UP, so that it can be viewed by as many people as possible. Only awareness about the disease can help protect us from the threat we all face and the Red Ribbon Express (RRE) is an important step to deal with the threat of AIDS in this part of the country. It is the aim of the state government to educate the people as much as possible. Even though the RRE is central government initiative I am aware that without the state government’s support reaching people at the grass root level will be impossible. Therefore we are keen to associate with the event and make it a huge success. My congratulations to the UPSACS for planning this venture so well in the state.”
Also present on the occasion was the District Magistrate Sonebhadra, Pandhari Yadav, who said, “The RRE was very welcome in the Sonebhadra as it will help protect the people from HIV. I assure every one associated with the Red Ribbon Express and the Central Government too that the people will participate with enthusiasm in making the journey through UP huge success. This is a very powerful way of educating the masses and I hope that in the next 2-3 months that the express will be in the state it will be the people who will benefit the most.”
Echoing his sentiments also was Kusum Lata Srivastava, Addl Project Director, UPSACS, who said “The effort being put in to make the RRE a success is a joint effort of all related agencies in the state and central government who have collaborated with us. But I would also like to acknowledge the role of the counsellors and other staff like ANMs and Asha that have interacted with people on the train to give advice to those seeking it for their problems.”
Speaking on the occasion CMO, Sonebhadra, Dr Kuriel termed the Red Ribbon Express a unique campaign, saying, “It is a matter of pride that the largest multimedia campaign of educating the common man was being launched from Chopan. It is more meaningful here as this is a district where vulnerability to HIV/AIDS is greater owing to the truckers population passing through it. In addition the illiteracy makes it difficult to arm people with measures to protect themselves from the disease. In such a situation the Red Ribbon Express comes as a blessing in disguise for all of us and we should make the most of this opportunity to be learn how to be safe and healthy.”
The event was also attended by the district collector, doctors from both government and private hospitals, ANMs and Ashas from Vinobha Bhave Ashram Chopan who were supported by staff from Target Intervention groups from Nehru Yuva Kendra Sonebhadra. They all helped man the exhibits and explain and interact with the visitors.
Also present at Chopan were representatives from collaborating agencies like UNICEF, Create, Water Aid and Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT) which made it indeed an event that the district would never forget.
The train was then flagged off on the afternoon of July 19, to move to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand states to return to UP on 29 August and remain here till October 10. (CNS)
(Anjali Singh is a senior journalist, who writes for Citizen News Service (CNS) and also is the Director of Saaksham Foundation)