KOLKATA (Reuters) - Thousands of beggars in eastern India have been recruited to help stem the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus by singing songs and acting in plays about safe ***.
Officials in the impoverished state of Bihar say they want to train many of the state's estimated 100,000 vagrants to sing songs in trains and buses and beside busy roads, as well as enact street plays about the deadly virus.
"Beggars are great actors and very creative," Vijay Prakash, Bihar's welfare secretary,told Reuters. "They always had the skills, but lacked direction which we are giving them and the experiments have so been very successful."
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 true figure may be much higher as surveillance is limited in much of the country.
According to official figures, just 1,078 people from Bihar's population of over 83 million are infected with the virus -- although AIDS campaigners say infection rates are grossly under reported.
The new recruits will be paid a few hundred rupees for their work.
In India, beggars are regularly seen singing popular Bollywood or folk songs in crowded trains and buses to solicit money.
"Some can dance very well, and we hope our training programme will help them earn a living," Prakash said.
If the project is successful, officials plan to recruit beggars to promote awareness of diseases like polio and malaria.