Sonia Gandhi flags off ‘Red Ribbon Express’ on World AIDS Day

New Delhi, Dec 1: On the occasion of the World AIDS Day, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi today flagged off the ‘Red Ribbon Express’, which will travel across the country carrying HIV/AIDS prevention messages.

Terming the campaign against the dreaded disease as a "battle which can and must be won", Sonia stressed the need for fighting social discrimination against those affected with AIDS.

“This project will help in bringing to the mainstream the fight against the disease,” she added.

"It continues to be a major public health concern. No single thing has had such an impact in the world. Men and women in the prime of their youth have been lost to this disease," she said.

National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) and the Indian Railways have signed an agreement to run a train to increase the AIDS awareness and promote safe behaviour among people.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was also present on the occasion, said the government would make available another train for the same purpose.

"The Indian Railway network served as the ideal route to roll-out a mass mobilisation initiative intended to reach every nook and corner of the nation,” he said.

The project aims to spread information regarding primary prevention services; to develop an understanding of the disease, to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with AIDS and to enhance people’s knowledge about preventive measures, health habits and lifestyle.

The train will first travel to Alwar and Jaipur before visiting 23 states. It will return to Delhi on December 1, 2009.

The train will traverse over 27,000 km covering 180 stations holding programmes and activities in over 50,000 villages.

The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has conceived the idea to combat HIV/AIDS through a specially-designed seven coach train.

Of the seven coaches, three are proposed to display educational materials, one to be kept for interactive orientation and discussion and one for counselling and providing medical services.

The train will also showcased exhibition on HIV/AIDS and politicians, film actors and small screen celebrities on board to create awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Apart from this, cultural function will also be organised at stops in Jaipur, Allahabad, Lucknow and Bhopal.

AIDS has acquired the status of endemic in India -- where over 2.5 million people are thought to be living with HIV/AIDS -- and putting millions of more lives at risk.

According to the latest UN figures on AIDS, the global prevalence of HIV AIDS has levelled off in part due to effective HIV programs. Still, in 2007, there are 33.2 million people infected with the disease -- about 30.8 million adults and 2.5 million children.

Latest figures show 2.5 million people have become newly infected and 2.1 million people will die of AIDS related causes in 2007.  (ANI)