Concerned about the rapid spread of AIDS in Andhra Pradesh, the state government is enlisting the support of barbers and religious leaders to spread awareness.
The state is next only to Maharashtra in the AIDS list and has some 5 lakh HIV-positive citizens.
The AP AIDS Control Society is launching a programme on December 1, World AIDS Day, to make 25,000 barbers de facto AIDS counsellors.
The barbers will advise their customers on the dangers of AIDS and the importance of safe sex. They will also be used as a conduit for distribution of condoms.
According to AIDS control director K Damayanthi, barbers can prove to be great anti-AIDS messengers as they engage in conversation with their customers on a daily basis.
With people frequenting barber shops at least once in a month, AP authorities thought that it was the best place to spread the message of safe sex.
A pilot project taken up in Hyderabad, in which the AIDS Control Society trained 1,000 barbers, yielded encouraging results, authorities said.
Chief Minister Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy also plans to convene a meeting of religious leaders on December 10 to elicit their cooperation in the AIDS awareness campaign.
The issue will also be discussed in the winter session of the state assembly, which begins on December 7.
Meanwhile, the Core Committee of Legislators Forum on AIDS has recommended the introduction of a one-hour class on AIDS at least once a week in all high schools and colleges in the state.
A lesson on the scourge has been included in the state curriculum.
Core Committee convenor M V Ramana Rao said Guntur district in south coastal Andhra had the most HIV-positive people in the state, followed by Prakasam and Cudappah districts.
Mahbunagar district has lowest number of HIV cases.