//India's HIV/AIDS campaigners to target holymen

India's HIV/AIDS campaigners to target holymen

04 Nov 2006 Source: Reuters

NEW DELHI, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Indian HIV/AIDS activists are to target one of the Hindu religion's biggest congregations in January to spread awareness about the disease infecting millions of Indians, they said on Saturday.

More than 60 million pilgrims are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges river in the northern city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh state for the Ardh Kumbh fair.

About 200 HIV positive people from different parts of India will be there to participate in an awareness campaign, wearing white aprons with printed HIV/AIDS messages, organisers said.

Volunteers will also distribute information material, organise video shows and provide counselling.

"We chose the Ardh Kumbh as a majority of the pilgrims who participate in it are from rural areas and lack even basic information about HIV," said Naresh Yadav, one of the organisers.

"We need to do away with myths associated with the disease. Our slogan is 'Don't fear AIDS, fight it. We are with you'."

India has the world's highest HIV/AIDS caseload with 5.7 million infected people, according to the United Nations AIDS agency. But activists say the figure may be higher as social stigma forces many people to keep their infection a secret.

According to the Uttar Pradesh network for people living with HIV/AIDS, there are about 400,000 HIV positive people in the state. Government estimates put the number at 15,000.