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HIV infection rate: Azad points to India's extraordinary work

“My remarks on gay sex were taken out of context”

Under fire from gay rights groups, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Tuesday sought to draw a line over the controversy surrounding his remarks on homosexuality, stressing that he had neither described gay sex as “unnatural” nor called it a “disease.”

Mr. Azad, in China to attend the first meeting of Health Ministers from the BRICS nations, told reporters on Tuesday that his remarks had been taken out of context, and were intended to draw attention to the challenges faced by the government in bringing down high infection rates among the MSM (men who have sex with men) community.

Mr. Azad drew attention to India's “extraordinary work” in bringing down infection rates — a success, he said, only paralleled in two other BRICS nations, China and South Africa.

Pointing to the progress in India, China and South Africa in bringing down infection rates, he said: “The other countries are still grappling with it, but these three countries have made big headway. In our country, we have reduced it by 50 per cent, so far as new infections are concerned. We have not only reduced it, but we are continuing with our policy to reduce it further.”

He said India's success stories were with regard to bringing down infection rates among female sex-workers and the migrant population.

“What is worrying for us is that we have not been able to reduce this number in MSM. That is a cause for worry because their location and identities are not known. There is only an estimation that the MSM [community] are 400,000 [in number].”

Mr. Azad said he had referred to infection rates of HIV among MSM as a disease. “I said this disease is posing a great problem. I was naturally talking about the HIV disease, when the subject of the conference [in New Delhi] was HIV/AIDS, not MSM,” he said. “Some activists thought by ‘disease' I meant homosexuality. They put superlatives [of] their own. I never used the word homosexuality, or gays, in my speech. I only used technical terms that the Health Ministry uses... The disease, I said, was HIV.”

Asked about his reported comment that gay sex was “unnatural,” he said: “There has been a long debate, for two years, in electronic and print media, with some people saying this is natural, some people saying this is not natural. I was not referring to my [opinion]. I said there has been a big debate in our country, in the media, that some people are saying [it is] natural, some people, unnatural.”

Different views, he said, were not his concern. “My problem is how to reduce the infection rate.”

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