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AIDS KILLS, POPULATION EXPLODES... and yet we are inhibited enough not to reach for the protection that is at arm's reach. Citadel meets Dilip R. Deshpande who is all set to help people get rid of their shyness whilst reaching out for a long and healthy life. Ever heard of an electronics engineer who dabbles with state-of-the-art gizmos and suddenly turns into a staunch crusader against AIDS? Well, meet Dilip Deshpande who strongly believes that there is no such thing as `enough awareness'.

Dilip's idea came about because this mild-mannered teacher-turned-entrepreneur from Bombay, who enjoys developing new products, was toying around with ideas for free enterprise."And I thought that abroad there are so many kinds of machines, where you insert the coin and get the product you want so why not make some here.Suppose a bar of soap cost you Rs.5.75, you could always insert five, one rupee coins into the machine, but how do you account for that seventy-five paise? Especially, since we do not have seventy-five paise coins. Since the pricing should match the packaging of the product, I went back to the drawing board," he shrugs matter-of-factly.

"When I was discussing this problem with a friend who is a health officer with the Family Planning Department, it opened up a whole new vista for me. He suggested that I should develop a vending machine for condoms. I liked the idea because with condoms, the pricing is no problem. The only problem that I could foresee was that people normally hesitated because they were embarrassed or felt shy whilst buying them from medical stores. Even if it is readily available, people don't ask for it. I thought this could be a very good means for promoting and using condoms," smiles Dilip.

The Health care Authorities appreciated the thought behind the concept and the machine itself, they envisioned a problem. "They pointed out the inavailability of electricity. Perhaps in cities like Bombay and Pune, the situation isn't all that bad, but elsewhere in the country it is definitely worse. They wondered whether I could develop a machine that didn't run on electricity. Intrigued, I worked on one that was fully mechanical and isn't a hi-tech product at the same time," he proudly reveals. "Here packets of condoms are stored in the machine. All you have to do is insert a rupee into the slot." Dilip Deshpande states confidently.

The prototype was appreciated by the concerned decision-makers in the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), who went ahead with the project and put their money into it. They purchased some machines initially. One machine was installed in Bombay in '94 and subsequently other branches all over India. Apart from this, an international organisation in appreciation of their efforts, granted them the much needed recognition by extending substantial financial aid. "Since then, I've worked out on ironing a whole lot of chinks in my machine and made a lot of improvements in my original design to make it more suitable for the environment, management, etc. It has generated a lot of positive interest," he says of his machines that are installed next to the panwallas' kiosks in the city. In fact, the entire project has even encouraged them to approach hotels with a proposition to tie up with contraceptive companies, so that they can offer them as a part of their complimentary services. And the hospitality industry's incentive to do so? Simple, Dilip's company, Dynavend Machines Pvt. Ltd., will supply them with free Condom Vending Machines for their rooms in a bid to promote safe sex. "The idea is to basically desensitise people and get them to accept the usage of protection, thus propagating safe sex," he analyses thoughtfully.

As a matter of fact, the canny entrepreneur's plans for the city of the Peshwas, is no less interesting. Not only are they setting up shop in the city but during the Pune Festival, they even installed the condom vending machines at strategic locations like on Fergusson Road, opposite Roopali, apart from the five in the Budhwar Peth and Raviwar Peth areas; two near Pune railway station, near the S.T. bus-stop; one near the corporation bus-stop and finally one at Koregaon Park. "True," he admits with candour, "See, during the Pune Festival, people come from villages all over the state. And they naturally visit all the night spots. Since we cannot stop the flesh trade, it makes more sense to promote the concept of safe sex to them. And even if  they are inhibited about visiting a chemist, they wouldn't have qualms about using this easy-to-operate vending machine which maintains their privacy and at the same time prevents sexually transmitted diseases," Dilip discloses with a slight smile.

So whilst medicine men around the world are finding a cure for AIDS, Dilip Deshpande along with the rest of the crusaders, have found a way to prevent its stranglehold on society.