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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 17:20 GMT
Indian PM: 'Talk about safe sex'
Aids activist Rajendra Kumar Tiwari displays an inflated condom to a rickshaw driver during an AIDS campaign in Allahabad
Aids activist shows an inflated condom to a rickshaw driver
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has urged Indians to start talking more openly about safe sex to check the spread of the HIV virus that causes Aids.

This follows growing alarm among Indian health officials about the spread of the virus to rural areas where health care is poor.

Aids workers dispute official figures that say the rate of HIV infection has fallen sharply in India.

More than five million people in India are HIV positive.

Only South Africa has more people with the virus.

High risk

"You should comprehend the need to educate our young about the modes of transmission of this disease," Mr Singh said on Thursday in comments to mark World Aids Day.

"Leading a healthy and safe sexual life is one of the commitments we must all make."

The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava in Delhi says that Mr Singh's comments, in a statement issued on Thursday, underscores what health workers and social activists have been saying for some time.

Students dressed as skeletons representing unprotected sexual relationship in Agartalla, Tripura
Students dressed as skeletons representing unprotected sex

Recent figures released by the government suggest that HIV is now spreading from traditional high-risk target groups, like truckers and sex workers in cities, to those living in rural areas.

This only confirms that the government message on Aids prevention is getting through to enough people, our correspondent says.

In a conservative country like India, it is not always easy to promote awareness about safe sex.

In the past, some leaders of right-wing Hindu groups have also said that emphasis should be on abstinence rather than advocating the use of condoms which, in their view, only encourages promiscuous trends in society.

Now the government has decided to focus more on rural areas where health workers will work with villagers and local women's groups to spread awareness about Aids.

The Indian Health Ministry is also speeding up a programme of setting up condom vending machines in public places like railway stations and airports so that people have easy access to them.

Awareness trek

Rallies and marches were held across India to mark World Aids Day.

A group of 30 Aids awareness activists ended their year-long 6,800km (4,216 miles) trek covering 13 states in the national capital, Delhi.

During the campaign, called "Walk for Life", the group travelled to over 300 cities, towns and villages and spread awareness about HIV/Aids by staging street theatres, videos and counselling.

Meanwhile in eastern city of Calcutta, sex workers held a demonstration carrying posters urging people to fight the disease.

In the north-eastern state of Assam nearly 70 HIV-infected women rallied in the town of Golaghat. They publicly acknowledged having the virus and urged people not to shun HIV patients.

"I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status," said Janabi Goswami, 28, an Aids activist, the Associated Press reports.

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