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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December 2004, 16:15 GMT
S Asia rallies on World Aids Day
Bangalore Aids rally
About 15,000 people rallied in the southern Indian city of Bangalore
Thousands of people have taken to streets in South Asia to mark World Aids Day.

India, which is second only to South Africa for HIV infections, announced a major health awareness campaign and will distribute 1.5bn condoms.

Rallies were staged nationwide by Aids activists, students and sex workers.

Thousands also marched in Nepal and Bangladesh, while Sri Lankan sex workers raised funds and distributed messages of safe sex.

Meanwhile, Asian policy makers at a conference in Islamabad were working on strategies to prevent an African-style pandemic hitting the region, and agreed to focus efforts on women.

"Sixty per cent of new infections in the past year have been amongst young women and girls," Imran Rizvi, director of Amal, a Pakistan human development agency which helped stage the conference, said.

"HIV is called the poverty virus - I would actually add gender and poverty virus."

Bollywood ambassador

India, which has 5.1m cases of HIV/Aids, announced a new approach to tackling the epidemic.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said: "We are going all-out and within six months the whole country should know about HIV/Aids and its implications."

Rally in Kathmandu
Activists take the anti-Aids message to Kathmandu in Nepal

One of the biggest Indian rallies was in the southern city of Bangalore, where 15,000 people called for an end to discrimination against women and girls living with HIV/Aids.

Rallies were also held in India's north-eastern states, where intravenous drug use, a major cause of HIV infection, is a serious problem.

A march was held in Assam's capital, Guwahati, and prayers said in Christian churches in Nagaland and Mizoram.

In Andhra Pradesh, in the south, Chief Minister YS Rajashekar Reddy said there should be a law requiring couples wanting to marry to be tested for HIV.

He warned that the state, with about 500,000 HIV positive people, was facing a serious situation.

Meanwhile, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan has been appointed a special anti-Aids ambassador by South African former president Nelson Mandela.

Poster in Indian-administered Kashmir
A poster highlights the message in Indian-administered Kashmir

Bachchan, a well-known HIV/Aids campaigner, becomes a "46664 ambassador" - named after Nelson Mandela's prison number.

The anti-Aids message was also taken to other South Asian countries.

Thousands rallied in Nepal, where seminars and Aids education programmes were held.

The country's National Centre for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Aids Control says 4,354 people have tested positive for HIV but other experts say the figure is probably far higher.

In Bangladesh, more than 5,000 people, including sex workers and NGO staff, took part in a procession from parliament.

Sex workers in Sri Lanka, which is regarded as having a "low prevalence" of HIV, raised funds and handed out leaflets to promote safe sex.

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