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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 15:33 GMT
Delhi barbers lead Aids campaign
By Upasana Bhat
BBC News, Delhi

A customer reads an Aids awareness booklet
Reading about Aids prevention while getting a haircut

Barbers in India's capital, Delhi, are part of a unique project aimed at increasing Aids awareness.

Eighty-five barbers in the city's congested southern district of Lajpat Nagar are currently involved in a programme to promote safe sex and spread the message of prevention against HIV/Aids to their customers.

Suresh Kumar Sain, who is from north-western Rajasthan state, is one of them.

Mr Sain has been living in Delhi for more than three decades and owns three shops in the heart of Lajpat Nagar.

He has put up posters in his shop with information about Aids, how it can be prevented and details of where to get tested for HIV.

Sometimes when I feel awkward, I point them to the posters in the shop
Suresh Kumar Sain
"I mostly bring up the topic myself," he says, as he gives a customer a haircut.

"But sometimes when I feel awkward, I point them to the posters in the shop. I have also trained others in my shop.

"It helps, though, that nowadays most people are aware of the disease due to the media."

'Relaxed place'

But not everyone is receptive to his message he says, and many young people simply turn a "deaf ear".

"They say whatever will happen is their destiny. You can't do much for such people but I try my best to convince them."

The Switzerland-based organisation Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) is the brain behind the project to train barbers to promote awareness of HIV/Aids in India.

A customer being told about Aids
The barbers try and dispel myths about Aids
FXB's regional programme adviser for Asia, Joe Thomas, says the barber shop is seen as a relaxed place where men indulge in gossip as well as serious talk.

A pilot project was started in 2001 in Delhi and has now been extended across India.

Ganga Ram Thakur, who runs a barber's shop in a street kiosk, is happy to have the chance to give out information which helps people.

He says he knew about Aids and ways of preventing it before joining the project. He insists he shaves each new customer using a clean blade.

"It is tricky to bring up the subject at times as some people are uncomfortable.

"But most of them are interested in hearing what I say. I tell them about Aids and how it can be prevented. I also distribute condoms to customers."

The young barber gets around 30 customers a day and has brochures on the disease for customers who want more information.

Dispelling myths

Mohammed Javed, another barber involved in the project, says most people are aware of Aids but it is important to provide them with details on how it can be prevented.

A barber at a street kiosk spreads the word
The topic is still taboo and sometimes uncomfortable to raise

"I also try to dispel certain myths about Aids, tell my customers about its symptoms and encourage them to get HIV tests done," he says.

Mr Javed says sometimes customers say they are aware of the importance of safe sex but find condoms "too expensive".

"But when I told them that they can collect condoms from various government hospitals and my shop free of cost, they readily agreed to use them.

"Now they even ask for them on their own," he says.

Big success

Vishwa Deepak, who is supervising the project, says FXB has trained the barbers in communication skills to raise the topic of sex, which is still a taboo subject in India.

He says the barbers are told to encourage their customers to use condoms and also try to convince them to go in for HIV tests and refer clients to appropriate centres or clinics for help.

Mr Deepak says the response by the barbers has been very good.

"The barbers are not paid anything to spread the message of Aids prevention. It is only their zeal to help which is working."

Eleven thousand packets of condoms have been distributed by the 85 barbers in the past six months in Lajpat Nagar alone.

The "Barbers Intervention Project" is being implemented in 20 states and federal territories of India and FXB says that more than 10,000 barbers are involved.

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