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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 August 2006, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Rural India in big HIV-Aids push
Aids campaigners in India
An Aids awareness drive in India
India has launched a major offensive against HIV-Aids involving hundreds of village leaders.

The focus on the rural areas comes as nearly 60% of HIV positive people live in the country's villages.

India now has some 5.7 million people infected with the HIV virus. Only South Africa has a comparable problem.

Officials say poverty, migration and limited access to health care are the main reasons which make rural India more vulnerable to the disease.

The new initiative was launched in the Indian capital Delhi by the government in partnership with UNAids.

'Disease of intimacy'

The event, which was attended by some 500 village council leaders, aims to enlist their support in containing the spread of the disease.

"Aids is a disease of intimacy and has a lot to do with things that are personal, such as sex and death," UNAids executive director Denis Broun told the convention.

"The local-level bodies are the closest to the people, hence their cooperation is very important," he said.

Mr Broun said the experiment of using mayors and leaders of local bodies for spreading HIV awareness has worked well in Africa and North America.

The head of the National Aids Control Organisation, Sujatha Rao, said migrant workers and truck drivers have been identified as groups which take the infection to rural areas.

Aids education

She said the programme would train local leaders to help women with Aids, who have to deal with discrimination and isolation.

Ms Rao said local leaders would be encouraged to make condoms more accessible and introduce Aids education in schools.

The village councils manage rural development plans, community services, public health and family welfare.

The council members generally belong to the village and have direct access to all the families in their area.

Officials say because of their wide reach, they have the potential to make a difference.

Low awareness

They are now being encouraged to make HIV and Aids part of local-level planning and address various myths associated with the disease.

Despite the threat the virus poses to the general population, experts admit that the awareness about the spread and prevention of the disease is very low, particularly among women.

Also, they say, the low social status of women in India makes them more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

Although India has had HIV-Aids for two decades now, steps to control the disease have seriously been taken up only in the last six years or so.

And most of the awareness and prevention programmes have focussed on the high-risk groups.

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