Top Indian media executives on Wednesday agreed to launch a massive public information campaign across India to create awareness about the country's growing HIV /AIDS crisis — often described as a time bomb.

With 5.1 million cases, India has the second-largest population of HIV/AIDS (search) sufferers in the world after South Africa.

Medical experts warn ignorance and the stigma attached to the disease could push India into the top slot over the next few years. Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramdoss repeated those warnings Thursday, saying there are many Indians who haven't even heard about the disease.

Media executives from India's newspapers and television channels met Thursday to discuss what they could do to help stop the pandemic, and promised to launch public awareness programs.

"If not checked, (AIDS) can hurt our ambitions in economic growth and development very severely," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also attended the conference.

Hollywood actor and social activist Richard Gere was also at the meeting, and said it was not too late for India.

"There is a window of opportunity right now. If everyone gets serious, you can escape what happens tragically in Africa," Gere, who runs an AIDS program in India, told reporters. "The quickest way one can change anything is through the media."

Gere also praised the Indian prime minister's participation in the media summit and said the only reason why Thailand and Uganda have had success in lowering their rates of infection was because of strong leadership.

Last year, nearly 610,000 Indians are known to have contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (search).