Reversing the previous National Democratic Alliance Government's decision on banning condom ads on televisions, especially on the national broadcaster Doordarshan, the Health Ministry has now decided to aggressively push condom promotions.
Speaking to presspersons after the AIDS conference at Bangkok, the Health Secretary, Mr J.V.R. Prasada Rao, said, "We have already written to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry seeking the withdrawal of the ad ban. Condom promotion will be an important part of our strategy to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS."
The former Health Minister, Ms Sushma Swaraj, had decided not to promote condoms extensively in the mass media but to promote messages related to abstinence and single partner relationships.
However, at the recent Bangkok summit India together with other countries highlighted the importance of a condom promotion strategy. "Experience has shown that it is a sure-shot way to get early results. Thailand had been able to bring down HIV prevalence through such a policy," Mr Rao said.
According to Ms Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, Project Director of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), television spots on condoms providing dual protection — from unwanted pregnancies and HIV — have already been shot and another advertisement targeting young males to encourage them to use condoms is on air.
"Condom use currently among the high-risk groups was only about 50 per cent," she said.
Mr Rao also said that the Government should align the national HIV programme with reproductive health programmes. The Government has already initiated a free anti-retroviral programme across the country. On the issue of a legal framework for HIV/AIDS, he said the Lawyers' Collective had prepared a draft, which would go through a process of discussion.
Clinical trials of a vaccine against HIV/AIDS developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), and International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), are expected to commence in November. This is part of the three separate initiatives taken by the Government to develop such a vaccine.
The Health Secretary, Mr J.V.R. Prasada Rao, said another vaccine was being produced at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences under the leadership of Dr Pradeep Seth from the Department of Microbiology. A proposal had come before the Health Ministry from AIIMS to carry forward the work. The Ministry had suggested establishment of an expert group to study the work done so far, Mr Rao said.
Once this is done, clearance would be taken from the ICMR's Ethical Committee before starting the clinical trials, he added.
The third vaccine initiative involving ICMR and US' National Institutes of Health was at a preliminary stage, Mr Rao said.