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Barbers hand out condoms to prevent India's AIDS

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india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 13:20 IST

At his ramshackle shop in a huge New Delhi slum, barber Dinesh Thakur hands out a free condom with each haircut in an innovative scheme to prevent HIV in India, where experts fear an AIDS epidemic similar to that which has devastated parts of Africa.

Thakur, 38, charges 25 rupees for a shave or trim, but the hundreds of customers he sees each week also take away free advice on how to protect themselves and their families from HIV.

For the past few months he has attended education sessions organised by FXB, a Swiss-based nongovernmental organisation working to raise awareness of AIDS, and proudly displays their HIV helpline number on his mirror.

"People can't generally talk openly about AIDS and so there are a lot of things people here don't know about it," he said as dabbed shaving foam on a customer. "But now that I have learnt about the disease and how to prevent it, then I can pass that on to my customers."

Experts say this kind of scheme will be invaluable in preventing the growth of AIDS in India, where the government says 4.58 million Indians are living with HIV/AIDS, the second largest number after South Africa, which has an infected population of around five million.

FXB started its barber project last year and is hoping to eventually reach all 7,000 barbers in Delhi and, through them, much of the male population of the city. "We want to make barbers the peer educators," said Jagdish Harsh, FXB's India director. "Barber shops are a hub of gossip and men can discuss sex and sexuality openly in them."

First Published: Dec 01, 2003 17:55 IST