Union Heath Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has hit the headlines with a commonplace yet sharp comment, claiming AIDS cannot be combated by promoting the use of condoms but instead by encouraging the Indian culture that emphasizes on "promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife".
Stressing that having sex only with one's own spouse is an important aspect of 'Indian culture', Vardhan stressed that promoting the usage of condoms is not enough to prevent AIDS. In fact, he stated that such a trend rather encouraged 'illicit' relationships.
"The thrust of the AIDS campaign should not only be on the use of condoms. This sends the wrong message that you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you're using a condom, it's fine," New York Times quoted him in a telephonic interview.
"One should also promote integrity of sexual relationship between husband and wife - a part of Indian culture," Vardhan told the newspaper.
The first ever case of AIDS in India was registered in 1986. Fearing that the disease will spread on a large scale, the National AIDS Control Organization was established in 1992, to help create more awareness on the syndrome and to promote safety in sexual practices.
Over the years, the use of condoms - especially by the high-risk groups including sex workers, drug users and gay men - was encouraged by the government.
Though the prevalence of the disease is just 0.3 percent among the total adult population, India is today home to the third-largest population infected with the HIV virus - 2.1 million. Nigeria (3.4 million) and South Africa (6.1 million) top the list.
In the same report by the popular American daily, National AIDS Control Organization head VK Subburaj clarified that the encouragement offered in the use of condoms was not in any case meant to promote sexual promiscuity or immorality.
Subburaj said that the use of condoms was being promoted by NACO among high-risk groups, which are deemed as active agents for spreading the virus.
"The minister thought that we were promoting illegal activities through condoms," he was quoted as saying. "For the vulnerable groups, we cannot tell them about morals."
Subburaj, however, agreed with Vardhan's assessment that married couples must remain faithful to one another and that illicit relationship was indeed against Indian culture.
"We will tell them, 'Be faithful,' " he was quoted as saying.
The concept of casual sex is considered to be immoral and illicit in many countries, including India and other South Asian nations.
Vardhan is currently on a visit to the United States to discuss with health officials on cooperation and collaboration in vital sectors, according to his ministry.