BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: People with HIV in India frequently encounter discrimination while seeking and receiving healthcare services. The knowledge and attitudes of healthcare workers (HCWs) influences the willingness and ability of people with HIV to access care, and the quality of the care they receive. Previous studies of HIV-related knowledge and attitudes amongst Indian HCWs have been conducted primarily in large urban hospitals. The objective of this study was to asses HIV-related knowledge, attitudes and risk perception among a group of rural north Indian HCWs, and to identify predictors of willingness to provide care for patients with HIV infection. METHODS: A cross-sectional survey of 266 HCWs (78% female) from seven rural north Indian health settings was undertaken in late 2002. A self-administered written questionnaire was made available in English and Hindi, and the response rate was 87 per cent. Information was gathered regarding demographic details (age, sex, duration of employment, job category); HIV-related knowledge and attitudes; risk perception; and previous experience caring for HIV-positive patients. Logistic regression modelling was undertaken to identify factors associated with willingness to care for patients with HIV. RESULTS: The HCWs in this study generally had a positive attitude to caring for people with HIV. However, this was tempered by substantial concerns about providing care, and the risk of occupational infection with HIV was perceived by most HCWs to be high. After controlling for confounding, HCWs willingness to provide care for patients with HIV was strongly associated with having previously cared for patients with HIV (P = 0.001). Knowledge of HIV transmission and perception of risk were not associated with willingness to provide care. INTERPRETATION AND CONCLUSION: The findings of this study showed a general willingness of HCWs to provide care for patients with HIV, tempered by concerns regarding provision of such care. Strategies to address HCWs concerns are likely to ameliorate the discrimination experienced by people with HIV when accessing healthcare services. These include the development of programmes to promote occupational safety of HCWs and involving people with HIV in awareness training of HCWs.