NEW DELHI (AFP) — The United Nations has urged India to decriminalise homosexuality, saying it would help the fight against HIV/AIDS by allowing intervention programmes like the successful ones in China and Brazil.
Jeffrey O'Malley, director of the United Nations Development Programme on HIV/AIDS, told AFP Friday that countries protecting homosexuals from discrimination had far better records of protecting them from infection.
India, which has an estimated 2.5 million people living with HIV, has seen a drop in new infections contracted through unprotected commercial sex.
But "unfortunately in India, the rates of new infections among men who have sex with men continue to go up," O'Malley said.
"Until we acknowledge these behaviours and work with people involved with these behaviours, we are not going to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic," he said.
"Countries which protect men who have sex with men... have double the rate of coverage of HIV prevention services -- as much as 60 percent."
O'Malley's remarks come amid a stormy debate in India over homosexuality -- which is punishable by a fine and a 10-year prison term.
The Delhi High Court is currently considering a suit brought by gay rights activists to decriminalise homosexuality in a case that has generated intense media interest.
The statute in question is a British colonial-era law prohibiting "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."
Those seeking a change, including Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, argue that allowing homosexual sex between consenting adults would bring India's largely closeted gay community into the open.
O'Malley said countries where homosexuality was not legally proscribed had more success in preventing new infections among sexual minorities.
"In China, male homosexuality has never been illegal. So there aren't any of these legal barriers to HIV prevention work," he said: "It's easier to do this (prevention) work in China."
Brazil, he added, had taken another step forward by combining legal status for gays and lesbians with anti-homophobia campaigns.
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