Terming truck drivers as an important lifeline of the growing Indian economy, Hollywood star Richard Gere urged them to practise safe sex and help prevent HIV.
"Since truck drivers stay out of home for nearly 25 days a month, they succumb to their desires which finally ends up in spreading HIV. I have interacted with thousands of drivers in India and have been urging them to become responsible," Gere told reporters here Sunday.
He was pointing to the high prevalence of HIV among the truckers and the habit of many of them of having sex with many women, especially prostitutes, while away from home.
Gere, along with Bollywood actors Sunny Deol and Shilpa Shetty, joined nearly 4,000 truck drivers Sunday evening to celebrate "Seena Taan Ke", an event aimed at highlighting the contribution of truckers and the importance of safe sex practices.
"This event aims at fostering partnership among diverse groups and strengthening the commitment in the fight against HIV and AIDS," said Gere, who has been working with the community for the last nine years.
Gere has been associated with the Heroes project - a three-year national initiative by him and Parmeshwar Godrej - that mainly aims at reducing stigma about HIV/AIDS by educating people and advocating for behavioural change. There are nearly five million truck drivers in India of which 40 percent are most vulnerable to HIV. The HIV prevalence rate among them is at least three times the national average.
Deol and Shetty also urged the truck drivers to give up alcohol and opium, and become more responsible towards their families.
"They now have the awareness, what they need is to control themselves," said Deol.