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One of India's biggest Protestant churches is stepping up its AIDS education work in the face of a growing threat to the country from HIV/AIDS.

"With AIDS becoming one of the biggest health hazards for the nation, we are extending our HIV awareness campaign to all the dioceses," said Karuna Roy, who co-ordinates the work on HIV/AIDS of the Church of North India (CNI), known as the church's "AIDS Wing."

Of 34.3 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS, more than 10 percent—3.7 million—live in India, according to recent UNAIDS figures. A national health survey last year found that 60 per cent of women in India had not heard of AIDS. The figure was far higher among women in remote areas and among women who were illiterate.

In its campaign against HIV/AIDS, the church has been targeting school students and young people. The church has already trained 3000 school students aged between 15 and 18, in New Delhi, to become "AIDS teen peer educators," Roy said. "These children in turn spread the message on how to prevent AIDS."

Even non-Christian schools in Delhi had invited the "AIDS wing" to organize AIDS education programs, she added. Now the church is expanding the scheme to include all the church's 26 dioceses, which together cover two-thirds of India.

Earlier this month, the church organized a training program for 60 youth directors and volunteers from each diocese who in turn will be able to launch similar programs among school students in their areas.

"Christians are the first religious group to take up educating the public on how to keep away AIDS," said Deepak Yohan, one of the participants of the program. "AIDS is already becoming a serious problem even in remote areas. So, [the] church has the duty to spread this [awareness] ...

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