Tamil Nadu Saturday kick-started an HIV/AIDS control initiative to bring 1,000 higher educational institutions under the 'Red Ribbon Club' (RRC).
State Governor S.S. Barnala called on varsity vice-chancellors and principals to "take it as their personal and onerous responsibility to chalk out plans for RRCs in every college".
Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said: "The youth today is fully aware of AIDS and HIV, but now we must insist that they practice safe sex. We don't talk about sex, but now it is time to talk about it. Now is the time to intervene and involve the youth in active prevention programmes."
He said the governor of Tamil Nadu had been the "first to respond" to his ministry's appeal and "take a pro-active step in pushing the AIDS prevention programme".
"Of the estimated $2.5 billion funding for National AIDS Control Programme, NACP-III, 80 percent will go to prevention programmes," Ramadoss said.
He added that the RRC clubs were the best way to reach out to the most vulnerable groups - the country's youth. "We don't want India to turn into another Botsowana (Africa)."
It was not only commercial sex workers or truck drivers who were the high-risk groups, but India's youth as "India has the biggest chunk of young population today (540 million bellow 25 years)", Ramadoss said.
"Experts have warned that India may not be able to maintain its eight percent growth if it could not control HIV/AIDS," he pointed out, adding that the next five years will be devoted to ensuring that prevention programmes get the greatest emphasis.
Already 700 colleges, engineering and arts and science, in the state have RRC clubs.
State secretary for health and family welfare V.K. Subburaj said it was in Tamil Nadu that the first AIDS case was reported in 1986. Today there are 340,000 cases of HIV and AIDS in the state.
"Tamil Nadu has been the state with most number of recorded cases, Tamil Nadu was the number one state in creating awareness and now Tamil Nadu should be the state that must lead in control programmes too," he added.
He said Tamil Nadu's attempt in the next few years would be to bring under the RRC fold 1.8 million school children, 1.5 million out-of-school children and 5.5 million women in self-help groups.
There were 1.3 million students in Tamil Nadu's higher education institutions, the official noted and said, the state's goal should be "to at least bring 10 percent of these students under the RRC umbrella by year-end".
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support the RRCs.
Supriya Sahu, the project director and member-secretary of Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS), said that 35,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 years were already members of the RRCs.