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Red Ribbon Express comes calling in Tamil Nadu

Posted on 27 May, 2008 | IANS

Chennai, May 27 : The Red Ribbon Express, India's flagship HIV/AIDS campaign vehicle, steamed into Katpadi station on the outskirts of this southern metropolis Tuesday to a colourful welcome from banner-waving school kids, HIV positive peoples' networks, officials of Tamil Nadu's health and welfare department and a host of enthusiastic advocacy groups.

India's first AIDS case was found here in 1985. All through the 1990s, Tamil Nadu topped the list of states most affected by HIV/AIDS.

"Until a few years ago, the state was on the high prevalence category. Today, due to intensive campaigning and care, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is only 0.38 percent, significantly lower than the benchmark one percent," said Supriya Sahu, programme director of Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society (TANSACS).

"The campaign, however, needs to be continued and the Red Ribbon Express will strengthen TANSAC's efforts," she added.

The Red Ribbon Express is travelling 9,000 km across India, covering 43,200 village communities, in an effort to take the AIDS control campaign to millions of Indians.

It has an in-house museum on HIV/AIDS. Seven coaches have touch screen and 3D models for interactive demonstrations, explaining various aspects of the disease and how it can be kept at bay.

The train makes 19 stops through Tamil Nadu, visiting Villupuram, Tiruchirapally, Madurai, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari, among other places. It will also make a halt at Puducherry.

In the second leg of the Tamil Nadu tour, it will roll into Coimbatore and cover Erode, Salem and Jolarpet from July 12.

Of Tamil Nadu's 30 districts, Salem still has a high HIV/AIDS prevalence of 2.25 percent and Namakkal has 1.76 percent, Sahu said. Sentinel surveillance activities in Tamil Nadu started in 1993 and the government has collected data on HIV infection and AIDS spread consistently for 15 years.

Revising estimation procedures in 2005, the state government says that among age group 15 to 49 years today, the total number of HIV positive people in Tamil Nadu are about 105,671 and the prevalence rate is about 0.27 percent, a distinct decline in the infection rate.

In the third phase of the National Aids Control Programme, Tamil Nadu is taking its AIDS control programme to rural areas and it is only right that the red ribbon express should make stops in Tamil Nadu, say officials.

"AIDS prevention and control units are being set up in every district this year to cover the maximum rural area, with a programme manager in each district," Sahu told IANS.

In a unique effort, 10 mobile Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) vans are travelling along with the Red Ribbon Express as it moves across Tamil Nadu.

These mobile ICTCs, which were launched in Tamil Nadu in November 2007, were the first of its kind in India.

They operate in the Nilgiris, Salem, Dindigul, Dharmapuri, Kancheepuram, Krishnagiri, Namakkal, Thiruvannamalai, Coimbatore and Chennai districts. The testing vans are run by the respective district Red Cross societies.

All the mobile ICTCs are equipped with a team of counsellor and lab technician. HIV testing will be done after providing pre-test counselling as the Red Ribbon Express moves through the districts. As many as 1700,000 people accessed the 800-odd HIV testing centres in Tamil Nadu, of which 385 are located in Public Health Centres, says Sahu.

According to an ORG-MARG and Scope Marketing study in Tamil Nadu, the general awareness about HIV/AIDS is 98.2 percent in urban areas and 94.4 percent in rural areas.

Six cultural troupes are also part of the Red Ribbon Express team. They will make village visits on cycles and in two buses that will carry AIDS awareness messages to the interior areas.

The national campaign to spread HIV/AIDS awareness through the Red Ribbon Express was developed by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS).

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